New US Sanctions Target Russian Corruption in Guatemala’s Mining Sector

In a new move to crack down on Russian corruption in Central America, the United States has sanctioned two people and three Guatemalan-based mining companies in cases exposed by OCCRP and Forbidden Stories earlier this year.

 Fenix Mine GuatemalaU.S. sanctioned Guatemalan subsidiaries of the Swiss-based Solway Investment Group. (Photo: Planet., License)This Nov. 18 wave of sanctions targeted Dmitry Kudryakov and Iryna Litviniuk for allegedly leading bribery and corruption schemes in Guatemala to protect Russian mining interests, as well as Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN), ProNiCo and Mayaníquel, which are subsidiaries of the Swiss-based Solway Investment Group.

Both Kudryakov, a Russian citizen, and Litviniuk, a Belarusian, hold management positions in the Solway Group and are accused of bribing politicians, judges and government officials to advance Russian mining interests.

Litviniuk allegedly “conducted corrupt acts in furtherance of Russian influence peddling schemes by unlawfully giving cash payments to public officials in exchange for support for Russian mining interests,” read the statement from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Solway Group issued a press release hours after the U.S. announcement and denied the allegations. It stated that Solway’s subsidiaries were not controlled by Kudryakov or Litviniuk and affirmed that it is not “a Russian company and does not have any business relations with Russia.”

However, leaked documents showed that Solway’s subsidiaries have economic ties to a Russian-owned mining company accused of bribing Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.

Whistleblowers who fled the country claimed that representatives of Russian-owned mining conglomerate Mayaníquel had paid Giammattei for privileged access to a port, passing along bribe money in wads of cash rolled up into a carpet - a scandal that came to be known as the “magic carpet” affair.

Solway said that Kudryakov and Litviniuk “were immediately suspended from their positions until the situation is clarified.”

These U.S. sanctions may indicate further actions to come. “We stand with the people of Guatemala and support the protection of their country’s natural resources from external exploitation,” said Brian Nelson, Treasury’s Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

“We will use our tools to help ensure that corrupt profiteers face consequences for stealing from the Guatemalan people,” he added.

Guatemala’s corruption watchdog analyst pointed out that “these sanctions applied to Russian mining companies will bring limitations to their operation, since they will find difficulties in buying materials and raw materials.”

Solway Group has been involved with Guatemalan mines since 2011 and owns the Fénix mine - one of the largest nickel mines in Central America which OCCRP exposed as a major polluter of the air and the country’s largest lake.

High-ranking Guatemalan officials have been accused of allowing the Fénix mine to extract nickel in defiance of Guatemala’s top court ruling that extractive operations could not to continue.

The court had ordered the suspension of the operations to protect the rights of local Indigenous people who claimed the mine’s extraction license was illegal, but satellite images provided by Guatemalan environment watchdog showed the mine’s trenches continued to expand.