AT the time the United States and European countries had banned or limited the export of vaccines against the coronavirus to first deal with the pandemic at home, Russia was willing to share its Sputnik V with countries in need.
However, the distribution often goes through middlemen who appear to be reselling the vaccine for almost double the price they paid for it.
A Moscow Times investigation revealed last week an opaque deal Russia made with a royal Emirati family to deliver vaccines to the developing world.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) gave exclusive rights to Aurugulf Health Investments, an Abu Dhabi company with close connections to Emirati royalty, for reselling the Sputnik V vaccine.
Aurugulf was established late last year and has almost no digital presence. The group is run in part by the Royal Group, a company led by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyuan, the national security adviser to the UAE and the brother of Abu Dhabi’s ruler.
The agent responsible for distributing Aurugulf’s Sputnik V vaccines is Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook al-Maktoum, a mid-ranking Dubai royal who spearheads energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ilya Shumalov, head of Transparency International in Russia, told the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) that the projects may also be military related.
As a result, Maktoum and other members of the Emirati royal family have close contacts in Africa and the Middle East. And so, this is where Maktoum is focused on reselling vaccines, Shumalov explained.
Mainly through private contacts, Aurugulf signed distribution deals with Ghana, Guyana, Lebanon, and Pakistan.
The selling price is steep. Pakistan paid US$22,50 per dose. Guyana paid US$24.
Russia had advertised a selling price of US$9,95 per dose, and European countries Slovakia and Hungary, which struck deals with Russia directly, were able to pay that promoted price. Countries which negotiated through Aurugulf, though, paid more than double.
Yet these countries didn’t have any other option to secure the Sputnik V vaccine.
In the still-unfolding list of countries with which Russia and Maktoum have made a deal, Aurugulf has exclusive selling rights. This means the countries must buy Sputnik V through him, and pay his price – despite any efforts to circumvent this.
“The use of the Emirati scheme to sell Sputnik V has been met with uproar in almost every country where a supply deal is known to have taken place,” the paper wrote.
In Pakistan and Lebanon, Maktoum made exclusive deals with the private sector, and potentially prevented the government from being able to distribute Sputnik V.
In Ghana, the government faced fierce backlash for buying 3,4 million doses at the high price of US$19; Maktoum made an estimated US$30 million in that deal.
The secrecy shrouding the agreement between the UAE and Russia has incited confusion in countries and among politicians unaware of this deal.
Once Guyana discovered their vaccine shipment arrived from Dubai, they delayed distribution in order to investigate the matter.
The government didn’t know they were ordering Russian vaccines through the UAE and were confused about the vaccine’s origin.
As a result, the ministry of health in Guyana had to issue a public statement apologising for the delay and causing “irreplaceable harm” in the national vaccination programme.
Similarly, when Kenya received their Sputnik V vaccines in a shipment from Dubai, they became suspicious, and the government pulled its authorisation. The doses remain unused.
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“The Sputnik V story here is sort of murky,” Dmitriy Charneskiy, a Russian diplomat in Kenya, told the Moscow Times.
“I don’t know who exactly brought in the vaccines, I just know they came from the UAE. We had no involvement in the distribution at all.”
In the messiness of the distribution, though, Russia’s reputation remained unscathed.
Shumalov told the Times this could be part of the reason Russia made the deal with the UAE in the first place: it’s a way for the country to transfer blame in the risky business of global vaccine distribution.
Not many other clear reasons for the deal have emerged, but Shumalov told the OCCRP “selling through a third party is a traditional practice for Russia”.
* Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.