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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Russia

  • Facebook removed three networks of accounts linked to “Putin’s chef,” U.S.-sanctioned troublemaker Yevgeny Prigozhin. The dismantled accounts were apparently designed to sow fake news in Africa—Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya—as practice for meddling in the U.S. election in 2020.

Bolivia

  • The Organization of American States began its audit of the fishy Bolivian election, which will take three weeks. Pres. Morales has said he would respect the auditors’ findings, but he also plans to make life harder for urban protesters by encouraging his supporters to cut off food supplies to Bolivia’s big cities.
  • Two people died in clashes between supporters and opponents of Pres. Morales in Santa Cruz province.

Iraq

  • PM Mahdi announced his resignation, on the condition that the two political blocs that nominated him agree on his replacement.
  • Reuters reports that Iran wants Mahdi to remain in power, and sent QUDS force commander Qassem Soleimani to try to talk one of those blocs into declining to approve a replacement so Mahdi will be forced to stay.

Lebanon

  • The U.S. is withholding $105 million in security assistance for Lebanon—probably because it’s concerned about who will take over for PM Hariri.

Pakistan

  • Hundreds of thousands of opposition Islamists marched in Islamabad to call on PM Khan to resign. They’re frustrated over economic hardships. Khan’s government allowed the demonstrations, but blocked roads and comms to try to contain them.

Afghanistan

  • U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is in Kabul to meet with Pres. Ghani and reportedly discuss a potential prisoner swap to release an American and an Australian who the Taliban have held for over three years.
  • SIGAR’s latest quarterly report (available here) said that Taliban attacks from June 1 to August 31, 2019 were more effective than usual: 49% of the 3,495 attacks this quarter caused military or civilian casualties—vs. 42% of attacks from January through May.

Venezuela

  • Russia shipped $315 million in hard currency (USD and EUR) to Venezuela in six separate air shipments from May 2018 to April 2019. It’s not quite clear what the money was for, but it must have been welcome relief for Pres. Maduro’s cash-strapped government. A Bloomberg article about the transfer is pasted below.

Libya

  • Malta said it seized another large shipment of cash from Russia in late September—this one was two containers full of new Libyan bank notes being sent to Khalifa Haftar’s unrecognized government.

Sahel

  • AFRICOM officially began operations at its new, $110 million base in Agadez, Niger. Air Base 201 will serve as a launch site for unmanned intel and recon flights across the Sahel.

DRC

  • The Armed Forces of DR Congo launched “large-scale operations” against rebel groups in the eastern region of Beni. That’s likely to force the rebels to flee over the border into Uganda.

Yemen

  • The Houthi rebels claim to have shot down a $3 million U.S.-made ScanEagle drone near the Saudi border, but didn’t offer any photo evidence to support the claim.

Planeloads of Cash From Russia Have Been Shipped to Venezuela (Bloomberg)

  • About $315 million of euros and greenbacks were transferred

Bills allow Venezuela to use hard currency to skirt sanctions

Hundreds of millions of dollars in cash has been shipped from Russia to Venezuela, providing a lifeline to the South American country as U.S. sanctions limit its access to the global financial system.

A total of $315 million of U.S. dollar and euro notes were sent in six separate shipments from Moscow to Caracas from May 2018 to April 2019, according to data reviewed by Bloomberg from ImportGenius, which compiled Russian customs records it obtains through private sources. The cash came from lenders run by the countries’ governments and went to Venezuela’s development bank, the records show.

While the money could be for any number of things — like Venezuela repatriating cash held overseas or dividends from a stake in a Moscow-based bank or revenue from sales of crude or gold — the complex logistical feat shows one of the ways President Nicolas Maduro’s administration has sought to skirt aggressive U.S. financial sanctions. As a consequence of the scrutiny, the central bank is conducting more transactions in cash, sometimes offering local clients access to euro bills.

ImportGenius’s data goes through April this year. That month, about $97 million in notes were sent in two loads from Moscow-based bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank to Venezuela’s Banco de Desarrollo Economico y Social de Venezuela, or Bandes. Evrofinance is a joint venture between Bandes and Russia’s state property management agency.

In January, $113 million worth of 100-euro bills were sent from state-controlled lender Gazprombank, which at the time had a stake in Evrofinance. The same entity shipped $50 million in U.S. dollar bills just two days earlier, and two separate shipments of unspecified currency totaling $55 million were made in May and July of last year.

Press officials for Evrofinance didn’t respond to requests for comment. Requests made to Bandes through Venezuela’s Finance Ministry were redirected to the Information Ministry, which didn’t respond.

A Venezuelan government official, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, confirmed the country had received cash shipments tied to Evrofinance but declined further comment.

Gazprombank spokesman Anton Trifonov declined to comment on any cash shipments but noted that “the correspondent account of Bandes with Gazprombank, as well as any cooperation between the banks, was totally terminated in March 2019.”

The Venezuelan regime has gone to great lengths to maintain access to hard currency as the U.S. crackdown leaves it isolated from conventional financial systems, with major banks mostly refusing to do business with Maduro. Among other ventures, the regime has used secret gold sales to raise funds, while also studying the possibility of using cryptocurrencies or a Russia-run global payment system to send money.

Bandes was sanctioned in March by the U.S., which alleged Maduro uses the bank’s accounts to keep a substantial amount of money abroad, mostly in Europe. The officials said the Venezuelan government had started moving funds away from the central bank, shifting them to Bandes.

Last year, Evrofinance was selected by the Maduro government to handle some payments to its suppliers, which were urged to channel international transactions through the Moscow bank. Later that year, Venezuela appointed a former Evrofinance board member as a top official in the nation’s banking system.

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