A Russian businessman dubbed “Putin’s chef” who is wanted in the US for alleged electoral fraud has broken cover to insist he is a “pacifist” with “no connection whatsoever” to Moscow-backed mercenary groups.
evgeny Prigozhin sought to set the record straight and rebut allegations that he is the financial backer of Russian internet troll farms and paramilitary forces.
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Telegraph,
Mr Prigozhin (60), who has lucrative catering contracts with the Kremlin, said he had been to events with Vladimir Putin on several occasions, but has “no relationship whatsoever” with him and has “no insights” into the president’s thoughts.
He denied in the strongest terms any link between him and Russian paramilitary forces, specifically the shadowy Wagner Group, thought to be active in Ukraine, Syria and Africa.
Mr Prigozhin grew up in Mr Putin’s home city of Leningrad. In 2001 he personally served Mr Putin at his restaurant. He since won numerous catering contracts with the Kremlin. He
has been linked to the Leningrad-based Internet Research Agency, widely seen by Western security officials as a troll farm and source of disinformation.
In April this year, the FBI sanctioned Mr Prigozhin, saying the agency was responsible “for interfering in the 2016 presidential election”. The FBI offered a reward of $250,000 (€216,000) for information leading to his arrest.
Mr Prigozhin denies the allegations and said: “I have never served in the Russian government and, it bears repeating, I am not closely acquainted with president Putin.”
Mr Prigozhin said the West fundamentally does not understand Russia. “The Russian state exists to protect the interests of the people of the Russian Federation and Russian people,” he said.
“The Russian Federation is not trying to spread democracy, authoritarianism, communism, Sharia law, or any other ideology. This is something that people in the West cannot seem to grasp.”
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