“The FBI must immediately stop offering cash rewards for my capture and extradition to the United States. This violates several principles of international human rights law. Yevgeny Prigozhin sent this in a letter to the FBI last year. A few weeks ago, they offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to Prigozhin’s arrest.
Now the US State Department is doing it again. For example, it announced on Friday that it would offer $10 million for more information on “foreign efforts to interfere in US elections.” More specifically, it seeks knowledge of the Internet Research Institute and its leader Prigozhin, a notorious Russian troll factory known for meddling in the presidential election.
Both the IRA and Prigozhin are sanctioned in the US. “Troll Factory used Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to sow discord and interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” the Justice Department said.
From criminal to hot dog vendor to poutine chef
But who is the famous businessman known as Putin’s chief minister? Prigozhin (61) grew up in Putin’s hometown, present-day St. Petersburg. He spends nine years in prison for theft and other crimes by a Soviet court. When he got out of prison in the 1990s, he opened a hot dog stand. It will go well and soon he will be able to open several high-end restaurants in the city. The cream of the crop is a restaurant on a boat, in which he is very successful.
In 2001, Prigozhin personally served two dinner guests: Russia’s new President Putin and Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. Putin loves food and invites other important guests such as Jacques Chirac and George Bush in the following period. Soon Prigozhin was catering Kremlin dinners and in 2003 Putin’s birthday parties, earning him the nickname “Putin’s Chef”.
In good standing with the Russian elite, Prigozhin expands its activities. He gets lucrative government contracts with his catering companies to supply meals to Russian schoolchildren and the military. The value of the contract is more than one million euros. With the profit, he adopts an oligarchic lifestyle: a palace in St. Petersburg, a yacht, a private plane and so on.
Head of a goblin factory and mercenary force
A chef at first glance, but nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, for example, he is a close confidant of Putin, who leads an army of online trolls and has a private militia operating out of Syria, Venezuela and, most recently, Libya.
He has been linked to the IRA, a Russian troll factory based in St. Petersburg that used fake Internet accounts and fake news to influence American voters during the 2016 presidential election. The US believes he is funding the agency through his catering company. Although Prigogine never admitted his involvement, about a dozen whistleblowers from the troll factory spoke to the media.
He is associated with the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group accused of promoting Russian state interests in Syria and Libya. The group has also been active in Ukraine and some African countries in recent years. He has been repeatedly accused of war crimes and human rights abuses.
Prigogine to this day denies that Wagner ever existed or that he ran a troll factory. Of the US accusation, he said last year: “I am not at all disappointed to be on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them.