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Yevgeny Prigozhin

WASHINGTON -- The United States has imposed fresh sanctions on the interests of an influential Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin.

The State Department announced on July 15 that it sanctioned five companies connected to Yevgeny Prigozhin, as well as three individuals, in the latest bid to stop the financier's "destabilizing global activity."

The companies are located in Sudan, Hong Kong, and Thailand, the statement said.

“Prigozhin relies on a network of front companies and facilitators” in an attempt to evade sanctions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. "Prigozhin’s global malign activities are well-documented, as demonstrated by his designation under multiple U.S. sanctions authorities."

The United States has already imposed sanctions on Prigozhin as well as his previously known companies, including the Internet Research Agency and the Vagner Group, a Russian military contractor force active in Libya, Syria, and Africa.

The Internet Research Agency engaged in online media influence operations during the 2016 U.S. presidential election as part of Russia’s attempt to influence the vote.

The State Department said in the July 15 statement that it had sanctioned M Invest and Meroe Gold. Prigozhin uses the two companies as cover for Vagner’s operations in Sudan. It also sanctioned the companies’ leaders, Andrei Mandel and Mikhail Potemkin.

“Prigozhin’s role in Sudan highlights the interplay between Russia’s paramilitary operations, support for preserving authoritarian regimes, such as that of former Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, and exploitation of natural resources,” the statement said.

Hong Kong and Thailand-based front companies Shine Dragon Group Limited, Shen Yang Jing Cheng Machinery Imp. & Exp. Co, and Zhe Jiang Jiayi Small Commodities Trade Company Limited were also sanctioned for helping Prigozhin’s business interests.

The State Department said the companies “facilitated more than 100 transactions exceeding $7.5 million” during 2018 and 2019 that were sent in the interest of Prigozhin.

The United States also sanctioned Igor Lavrenkov, who oversaw the Asian businesses.

Coastline Corruption? The Political Storm Over A Bulgarian Beach
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SOFIA -- Bulgaria’s prime minister has asked his finance, economy, and interior ministers to step down amid nationwide anti-corruption protests that have rocked the country for a week.

The press service of the Council of Ministers announced the move on the evening of July 15.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's GERB party said in a statement he had decided to dismiss the three ministers to put an end to speculation that they were working in connivance with the opposition MRF party and its senior member, businessman and media owner Delyan Peevski.

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov

Thousands of people have rallied in Sofia and other Bulgarian cities for seven days demanding the resignation of Borisov's government and Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev over rampant high-level corruption.

Protesters have also denounced police violence during protests in Sofia last week and called for Interior Minister Mladen Marinov’s resignation.

Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov has been under fire after SMS messages made public by businessman Vasil Bozhkov -- who is facing charges of tax fraud, attempted bribery, and organized crime -- showed that the two men communicated regularly until January 2020.

Revelations that the state-run Bulgarian Development Bank granted a $44 million loan to a small company also drew public discontent toward the Economy Ministry, led by Emil Karanikolov.

The anti-corruption protests were sparked by a raid on July 9 by the Prosecutor-General's Office on the presidential headquarters.

President Rumen Radev's legal affairs and anti-corruption secretary and his security and defense adviser were detained for questioning and their offices searched as part of two separate probes into influence-peddling and disclosure of state secrets.

The demonstrators have condemned the raids as an attack by the government and the prosecutor-general against Radev.

Protesters were also angered when members the National Protection Service (NSO) prevented people from using a public beach located near Dogan’s summer residence on the Black Sea. Access to the beach was restored on July 11 under pressure from the center-right Democratic Bulgaria opposition.

Borisov, who has been prime minister almost without interruption since 2009, has refused to resign.

His current term in office is due to end in early 2021.

With reporting by Reuters

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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