Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin (Russian: Евгений Викторович Пригожин; born June 1, 1961) is a Russian businessman with ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin was called "Putin’s chef" in an Associated Press article because of Prigozhin's restaurants and catering businesses that hosted dinners which Vladimir Putin attended with foreign dignitaries. Prigozhin controls "a network of companies," including three accused of interference in the 2016 United States elections. Prigozhin, his companies and associates face economic sanctions and criminal charges in the United States.
Prigozhin was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) on June 1, 1961 to Violetta Prigozhina (Russian: Виолетта Пригожина). He graduated from an athletics boarding school in 1977 and was engaged in cross-country skiing.
On November 29, 1979, Prigozhin was given a suspended sentence for stealing (in Leningrad). In 1981 he was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment under articles of robbery, fraud, and involving teenagers in prostitution. Prigozhin spent nine years in prison before he was released.
Restaurant and catering career
In 1990, after his release, he and his stepfather set up a network to sell hot dogs. Soon, according a New York Times interview with him, "the rubles were piling up faster than his mother could count them." He also became a 15% stakeholder and manager of a "Contrast," started by Boris Spektr, a classmate from his boarding school, which was the first grocery store chain in Saint Petersburg. In 1995, when revenues began to fall, Prigozhin persuaded a director at Contrast, Kiril Ziminov, to open a restaurant with him. The two men opened the "Old Customs House" (Russian: Старая Таможня) in Saint Petersburg. In 1997, inspired by waterfront restaurants on the Seine in Paris, Prigozhin and Ziminov spent $400,000 remodeling a rusting boat on the Vyatka River and started the floating restaurant called New Island, which became one of the most fashionable dining spots in Saint Petersburg. He said his patrons "wanted to see something new in their lives and were tired of just eating cutlets with vodka." In 2001, Prigozhin personally served food to Vladimir Putin and French president Jacques Chirac when they dined at New Island." He also hosted US President George W. Bush in 2002. In 2003, Putin celebrated his birthday at New Island. By 2003, Prigozhin had left his business partners, established his own independent restaurants, and had become a confidante of Putin, apparently free to engage in illicit activities without fear of prosecution.
His company, Concord Catering, got hundreds of millions in government contracts for feeding school children and government workers. In 2012 he got a contract to supply meals to the Russian military worth $1.2 billion dollars over one year. Some of the profits from this contract are alleged to have been used to start and fund Internet Research Agency.
In 2012 he moved his family into a St. Petersburg compound with a basketball court and a helicopter pad. He has a private jet and a 115-foot yacht.
Prigozhin has been linked to a mercenary group known as Wagner Group which has been involved in various actions as a private military contractor. On February 7, 2018 Wagner attacked US backed Kurdish forces in Syria in an attempt to take an oil field. Wagner and their allies suffered dozens of casualties when the US responded with airpower.
The Washington Post reported Prigozhin was in close contact with Russian and Syrian military officials before the February 7 action. The connections between Prigozhin and Wagner have been the subject of press coverage in Russia and the United States. Wagner is led by Dmitry Utkin, who was once head of security for Prigozhin. A person by the name of Dmitry Utkin was also listed as Director General of Prigozhin's Concord Management. Since 2011, Prigozhin's mother Violetta Prigozhin has been the owner of Concord. Concord and Prigozhin denied any connection to Wagner, however in November 2016 the company confirmed to Russian media that the same Dmitry Utkin leading Wagner Group was now in charge of Prigozhin's food businesses. Wagner has also been reported to be fighting in eastern Ukraine with pro-Russia forces.
On July 30, 2018, three Russian journalists working for a news organization often critical of the Russian government were murdered in the Central African Republic, where they had been attempting to investigate the activities of the Wagner Group in that country. The Russian government had begun a collaboration with the president of the Central African Republic in October, 2017. In its response to the killings, Russia's foreign ministry stressed that the dead journalists had been traveling without official accreditation.
Internet Research Agency
Prigozhin has been connected to and is alleged to have financed and directed a network of companies including a company called the Internet Research Agency Ltd., (Russian: ООО «Агентство интернет-исследований») Concord Management and Consulting Company and one other related company. The three companies are accused of internet trolling and attempting to influence the 2016 US Presidential elections and other activity to influence political events outside Russia.
Russian journalist Andrey Soshnikov reported that Alexey Soskovets, who had participated in Russian youth political community, was directly connected to the offices of Internet Research in Olgino. His company, North-Western Service Agency, won 17 or 18 (according to different sources) contracts for organizing celebrations, forums and sport competitions for authorities of Saint Petersburg. The agency was the only participant in half of those bids. In the summer of 2013 the agency won a tender for providing freight services for participants of Seliger camp.
Despite links to Alexei Soskovets, Nadejda Orlova, deputy head of the Committee for Youth Policy in Saint Petersburg, disputed connection between her institution and the trolling offices.
US Treasury Department sanctions
On January 28, 2018 the US Treasury Department also designated Evro Polis Ltd for sanctions. Evro Polis is a Russian company that has contracted with the Government of Syria to protect Syrian oil fields in exchange for a 25 percent share in oil and gas production from the fields. The company was designated for being owned or controlled by Yevgeniy Prigozhin. The sanctions require that any property or interests in property of the designated persons in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within the United States must be blocked. Additionally, transactions by U.S. persons involving these persons (including companies) are generally prohibited.
US criminal charges
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On February 16, 2018, Prigozhin, the Internet Research Agency, Concord Management, another related company, and other connected Russian individuals were indicted by a U.S. grand jury. He was charged with funding and organizing operations for the purpose of interference with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 presidential election, and other crimes including identity theft.
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