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Special Op Shop 2. Why Auchan's management is lying about aid to Russian military

After The Insider’s initial report regarding supplies to the Russian military was made public, Auchan executives promptly issued a response refuting any association with the supplies or assistance provided by their regional stores to volunteers collecting aid for the mobilized. However, recent evidence, comprising documents, photos, and videos, being released by The Insider, reveals that Auchan was fully aware of the destination of the goods and actively participated in concealing the supplies intended for the Defense Ministry as regular commercial sales to private entities.

  • Stage of denial

  • What's wrong with Auchan's excuses

  • From Auchan to the military


Stage of denial

After an investigation by The Insider and Le Monde revealed how a Russian subsidiary of Auchan supplied goods to the Russian military, the French management of the Auchan chain published a response which denied any involvement in such supplies:

“Auchan does not provide any voluntary or active supply assistance to anyone other than Russian civilians. Auchan Retail does not conduct, support or finance any “charitable” collections for the Russian armed forces.”

The chain also claims that the goods mentioned in the article were ordered by the St. Petersburg City Council, and that “there was nothing in the goods ordered during that period that would suggest a particular end recipient.” Auchan asserted that it had no involvement with the locations where volunteers gathered supplies for the front across various regions of Russia; allegedly it was just a coincidence that those collection points happened to be situated within Auchan premises.

What's wrong with Auchan's excuses

Almost all of the statements in Auchan's press release are blatant and deliberate lies, easily refuted by numerous documents, photographs, and taped testimony from employees.

Auchan acknowledges that the March order originated from the St. Petersburg City Council, but questions arise as to why the order was issued to ten privately-owned companies not formally associated with the St. Petersburg government. Additionally, it’s unclear why Auchan's Moscow management selected these ten companies, as indicated in the correspondence. It is also unclear why one individual, E.A. Safronova, signed for all ten companies when receiving the goods. Moreover, why would Auchan and the St. Petersburg Mayor's Office make it appear as if the delivery was a purchase by privately owned companies? Could it be that these supposed “purchases” were fictitious and aimed to conceal supplies to the Ministry of Defense in order to evade sanctions?

  • Judging by the payment orders, the goods were accepted by one and the same person, an E.A. Safronova, on behalf of ten different companies

Although Auchan maintains that they were unaware of the end recipient of the supplies, their employees and managers themselves attached “humanitarian aid” labels to the packages on Auchan premises. Interestingly, the “aid” item list did not include any items for women or children but did include razors and cigarettes. Furthermore, at least two representatives of the companies involved in processing the aid for Auchan confirmed on tape, available to The Insider, that they knew the aid was destined for the military. Additionally, officials from the St. Petersburg Mayor's Office, such as Alexander Lyubimov, deputy chairman of the city's Social Policy Committee, openly stated that the aid was intended for the Ministry of Defense. Thus, it seems highly unlikely that Auchan's management, together with the St. Petersburg government, organized the collection of “humanitarian aid” exclusively consisting of goods for men two weeks into the war, without having any idea of the final destination.

Auchan employees themselves labeled the boxes as "humanitarian aid," even though on paper they were regular sales
Auchan employees themselves labeled the boxes as "humanitarian aid," even though on paper they were regular sales

Auchan is attempting to portray the March deliveries as a routine purchase. According to the Auchan regional logistics manager in charge of coordinating these deliveries, Auchan provided the aid free of charge from its warehouses, as per her records. This aligns with the fact that Auchan managers labeled the packages as “humanitarian aid,” which is typically distributed for free. However, if Auchan indeed provided humanitarian aid, such as for refugees, why did they conceal and deny it? Why didn't they publicize this information on their website, and why did they present it as a commercial purchase? Could it be because the Auchan management was fully aware that the supplies were destined for the Ministry of Defense, as indicated by statements made by St. Petersburg officials in public?

Although Auchan contends that the presence of aid collection points for the Russian military in shopping malls was merely a coincidence, there are indications to the contrary. For instance, why did volunteers who collected aid for the military in various cities, such as Vladimir and Rybinsk, publicly express gratitude to Auchan for their assistance and why were they seen shaking hands with regional Auchan employees wearing Auchan uniforms in front of Auchan stores, as depicted in report photos.

A collector of aid for the mobilized poses with Alexei Sokolov, a security specialist at Auchan in Vladimir
A collector of aid for the mobilized poses with Alexei Sokolov, a security specialist at Auchan in Vladimir
Volunteers from Rybinsk thank Auchan for helping mobilized soldiers
Volunteers from Rybinsk thank Auchan for helping mobilized soldiers

The extent of knowledge that the French management of Auchan had regarding the actions of its Russian branch remains uncertain. However, given that there are numerous French nationals among the Russian management team, including Laurent Proust, the Sales Director of Russian Auchan, who oversaw the organizer of the St. Petersburg deliveries, Evgeniya Storozheva, it would be strange if they were completely unaware.

From Auchan to the military

On February 24, 2022, the same day as the full-scale invasion began, Ivan Martinovich, general director of Auchan Retail Russia, informed employees that Auchan would continue to operate in Russia, stating that “Auchan is business, not politics.” A few days later, on February 28, Governor Beglov of St. Petersburg ordered the city administration to collect humanitarian aid for the LNR, and then for “further territories as they are liberated.” Initially, the city administration worked with the Emergency Ministry to collect long-term storage products such as antiseptics and warm clothes, totaling 129 tons. However, they then shifted their focus to aiding the Defense Ministry and solicited help from loyal commercial organizations in collecting supplies for the military. It was at this point that Auchan became involved and supplied items such as cigarettes, lighters, canned stew, and men's clothing, including “Every Day” toothpaste, which can be traced from Auchan to the military.

An internal memo from Natalia Seltzer, a directorate controller, was distributed on March 15, 2022, to all managers and related departments of Auchan stores in St. Petersburg and the main warehouse of Auchan’s St. Petersburg Distribution Center. The memo instructed them to collect goods for “humanitarian aid” based on an attached list. The list and the amount of goods for both the stores and the warehouse were supervised by the regional manager Evgenia Storozheva (her direct superior is Laurent Proust, a French citizen and Director of Sales).

All boxes and pallets were packed on March 15 in the warehouse of Auchan’s St. Petersburg Distribution Center located at Bldg. 2, 177 Moskovskoe shosse. The boxes contained cigarettes, stewed meat, washing powder and many other items, including 1,000 tubes of toothpaste.

The warehouse operations manager, Dmitry I. from the logistics department, confirmed the quantities of goods collected and the vehicles that would transport them from the warehouse. These vehicles would also pick up the collected “humanitarian aid” from Auchan stores in St. Petersburg on the night of March 16 for transportation to Auchan Severny, the final destination.

A warehouse operator sent a communication to the stores with the information on the vehicles which would travel to the stores from the warehouse to pick up the “aid.”

On March 16, 2022, the goods were delivered to the Auchan Severny hypermarket located at 41A Kultury Avenue, and only a few specific items from the list arrived from other stores between March 16 and 17. The controllers Vladislav Kolmakov and Vitaly Lavrinenko retrieved these items in the evening as per Evgeniya Storozheva's instructions.

At 2:50 p.m. on March 17, 2022, Natalia Seltzer, Auchan's directorate controller, requested the corporate accounting department of Auchan's Central Office in Moscow to generate invoices for 10 legal entities. The invoices were confirmed by the accountant at Auchan’s Central Office on March 18. All ten selected companies fulfill orders for state-owned companies or municipal institutions.

Goods, including toothpaste, were checked by the commerce department and collected on 4 pallets in the transit area of the Auchan Severny hypermarket.

At 3:20 p.m. on March 21 Natalia Seltzer received an email from corporate accounting with an attachment of universal transfer documents (UTDs).

According to these documents, the toothpaste was to be picked up by the company Energy-3000 (TIN 7813139474). At 3:28 p.m., Seltzer instructed Rusayeva, an employee of the Auchan Severny hypermarket’s warehouse, to print and prepare the UTDs.

On the morning of March 22, 2022, a third-party carrier arrived at Auchan Severny to pick up the four pallets of “humanitarian aid,” including toothpaste. One person, “leading engineer Safronova E.A.,” signed for all 10 legal entities.

Thereafter all the goods, including the “Every Day” toothpaste, were delivered directly to the airfield near St. Petersburg, and from there to the combat zone (as officials confirmed in their report made public at the St. Petersburg Public Chamber).

Finally, Galina Baranova, general director of Energy-3000, confirmed to The Insider that the toothpaste was intended for the military.

This was the supply chain used to provide aid to the Defense Ministry during the initial weeks of the war. Subsequently, following the mobilization declaration, aid was delivered not only directly but also through collection points in shopping centers where volunteers gathered aid for mobilized soldiers. It is now tricky to differentiate between items donated to volunteers by ordinary citizens and those supplied directly by Auchan.

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