July 15, 2020 / 7:15 PM / 25 days ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. Treasury Department imposes sanctions on individuals, entities tied to Putin ally

(Adds details of sanctions, Mnuchin comment, background)

WASHINGTON, July 15 (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on individuals and entities it said enabled a blacklisted ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin to evade U.S. sanctions, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The Treasury targeted three individuals and five entities, including those located in Sudan, Hong Kong and Thailand, that it said are linked to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian catering tycoon indicted by U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller as the backer of an alleged Russian effort to sway elections in the United States with covert social media campaigns.

The Treasury accused the blacklisted targets of helping further Prigozhin’s global operations and attempting to suppress and discredit protesters seeking democratic reforms in Sudan, as well as helping the businessman evade U.S. sanctions.

“Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his network are exploiting Sudan’s natural resources for personal gain and spreading malign influence around the globe,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.

Washington has previously imposed sanctions on Prigozhin, including in connection to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and in connection to attempted 2018 and 2016 U.S. election interference.

Wednesday’s action freezes U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally prohibits Americans from dealing with them.

Those hit with sanctions include Russia-based M Invest, controlled or owned by Prigozhin, which the Treasury said served as a cover for a designated Russian Ministry of Defense proxy force and was responsible for developing plans for former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to suppress protesters seeking democratic reforms.

Also blacklisted are M Invest subsidiary Meroe Gold, M Invest’s Director General Andrei Mandel and Mikhail Potepkin, the regional director based in Sudan for both companies.

The Treasury also targeted Thailand and Hong Kong-based entities Shine Dragon Group Limited, Shen Yang Jing Cheng Machinery Imp&Exp. Co. and Zhe Jiang Jiayi Small Commodities Trade Company Limited, accusing them of having facilitated over 100 transactions exceeding $7.5 million that were sent in the interest of Prigozhin between 2018 and 2019.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Chizu Nomiyama

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