Ships Owned By Russia's Biggest Grain Exporter Moved Stolen Ukrainian Cargo: WSJ
Vessels linked to Russia’s largest grain trader shipped thousands of tons of stolen Ukrainian grain to global buyers, using a sophisticated system of feeder vessels and floating cranes, according to an investigation conducted by Jared Malsin, Anna Hirtenstein and Alistair MacDonald for The Wall Street Journal.
Photo Insert: The Crimean port of Sevastopol
The ships are linked either through their management or ownership to companies controlled by Russian businessman Peter Khodykin, who in turn owns RIF Trading House LLC, the country’s largest grain exporter and a big player in global grain markets, according to corporate and legal documents reviewed by the Journal.
The Journal has previously reported widespread theft of grain and land in Russian-occupied Ukraine, including detailing an intricate system by which smugglers clandestinely trucked out large amounts of stolen grain from newly occupied farms in eastern Ukraine to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
The next step in the smuggling process: Moving that stolen Ukrainian grain from Crimea to global buyers.
A fleet of small vessels ferry smuggled grain, typically from the Crimean port of Sevastopol, to larger cargo ships waiting at sea, where they transfer their cargo with the help of crane-equipped vessels, according to the Journal’s investigation. Those larger ships then set sail for far-flung ports.
Such at-sea transfers can hide the true provenance of the ships’ cargoes, which buyers might shun if they suspected the grain came from Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine. The transfers allow big container ships, which can be easily recognized in port or from satellite imagery, to avoid calling at Sevastopol.
Sometimes the stolen Ukrainian grain is mixed with Russian grain, to further disguise the cargo’s origins. “It’s wheat laundering,” said Yoruk Isik, head of the Istanbul-based Bosphorus Observer, an independent ship-tracking consulting firm. “They made it really hard to track.”