In October of 2017, the Inquisitr reported that a close friend and associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was the Russian oligarch behind the multimillion dollar fake news and propaganda operation designed to tamper with the U.S. 2016 presidential election and help elect Donald Trump.
Read that earlier Inquisitr report at this link.
On Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller confirmed the involvement of Prigozhin (pictured above) by indicting the 56-year-old along with 12 other Russians and three Russian organizations on serious charges related to the election tampering operation, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, identity theft, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prigozhin was so close to Putin that the Russian strongman trusted him to prepare and serve his meals and as a result, he was known as "Putin's chef."
Prigozhin is believed to have helped bankroll many Russian operations from which Putin may want to keep his distance. According to a Financial Times report on Friday, Prigozhin is "a shadowy figure whose resume reads like a grab bag of dirty tricks carried out in the name of Russian president Vladimir Putin... known for extensive pro-Kremlin side projects, doing everything from posting puerile memes about Barack Obama's farts to involvement with the Russian military."
The full text of the indictment, signed personally by Mueller, can be read at this link.
The "conspiracy to defraud the United States" involved a social media campaign carried out by a shadowy group based in St. Petersburg, Russia, with reputed links to Russia intelligence known by the harmless-sounding name of the Internet Research Agency, the indictments say. As the independent Russian news outlet RBC reported last year, the IRA employed about 100 people and spent roughly $2.2 million in U.S. cash to stage a social media and internet campaign designed to disrupt the U.S. election, and help elect Trump.
According to Mueller's indictment, the IRA efforts were directed at damaging Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, but also at supporting her Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders, who the Russians may have believed would be more easily defeated by their chosen candidate, Trump.
Asked by Russian media on Friday about his reaction to being named in the Mueller indictments, Prigozhin dismissed the charges as resulting from American gullibility.
"The Americans are very impressionable people, they see what they want to see," Prigozhin was quoted as saying. "I have a lot of respect for them. I am not upset at all that I ended up on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see him."
But who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?
After spending time in prison during the Soviet Union era, Prigozhin went into business as a street hot dog vendor upon his release, but soon managed to open an upscale restaurant in Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg. Putin himself dined at the restaurant and was so impressed that when French President Jaques Chirac visited Russia, Putin took him to dinner at Prigozhin's restaurant.
In fact, Putin took such a liking to his new "chef," that the Russian government awarded Prigozhin's company, Concord Catering, with a $27 million contract to provide lunches for students in Moscow public schools. Thanks to his close relationship with Putin, Prigozhin today finds himself with a personal worth of approximately $200 million in equivalent U.S. money.
Concord Catering, as well as its related company, Concord Management and Consulting, were both indicted along with the Internet Research Agency on Friday, Mueller announced. In other words, all three Russian corporate entities in the indictment reportedly belong to Prigozhin.
Prigozhin has been under U.S. sanctions since December of 2016 for allegedly providing financial backing for Russia's military activity against neighboring Ukraine. Concord Management and Concord Catering were also placed under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department in June of 2017, for the same Ukraine-related reason.