The rich Russian businessman nicknamed “Putin’s chef” – Yevgeny Prigozhin – has his fingers in a number of pies.
He made his fortune operating catering companies within the 1990s – therefore the nickname. And he joined President Vladimir Putin’s elite circle when the Russian chief began eating at his luxurious floating restaurant in St Petersburg, known as New Island, in 2001.
Like many different Russian oligarchs, Mr Prigozhin, 58, has branched out into varied companies, makes use of shadowy offshore companies and enjoys a lavish jet-set life-style.
However the US authorities is making an attempt to clip Mr Prigozhin’s wings: it has stepped up sanctions in opposition to him and his companies due to his alleged meddling in US elections.
Investigations by Western journalists and assume tanks additionally hyperlink Mr Prigozhin to a Russian mercenary group known as Wagner, accused of pursuing Russian state pursuits in war-torn Syria and Libya, in addition to hotspots in sub-Saharan Africa.
Who’re Russia’s shadowy mercenaries combating in Syria?
He has denied the Western allegations, however his enterprise ventures stay very opaque.
He got here to prominence in St Petersburg, Mr Putin’s dwelling metropolis, however was not within the authentic group of Putin allies, who fashioned a dacha (country-house) membership known as Ozero.
In his twenties, earlier than changing into a hot-dog salesman and profitable caterer, he was jailed for 9 years for theft and fraud.
Russia’s “shock remedy” capitalism of the 1990s created many enterprise alternatives for criminals, as they might name on pals to fend off aggressive rivals.
Mr Prigozhin has stored a low profile for years, however in 2011 he advised a St Petersburg newspaper a few youngsters’s story he as soon as wrote, which featured midgets defending a king in opposition to enemies.
How did he become involved in US politics?
The US Treasury introduced new sanctions in opposition to Mr Prigozhin on 30 September, accusing him of steering Russian efforts to affect the US 2018 mid-term elections.
He was implicated once more via the notorious Web Analysis Company (IRA), recognized as a St Petersburg “troll manufacturing unit” which, US authorities say, used faux web accounts and faux information to affect US voters within the 2016 presidential election.
Mr Prigozhin, his Harmony Catering agency, enterprise associates and IRA have been indicted by a US Grand Jury in February 2018 over that election interference.
The fees have been drawn up by US Particular Counsel Robert Mueller, who was investigating alleged Russian makes an attempt to assist Donald Trump’s election marketing campaign.
Mr Prigozhin shrugged off the indictment, saying: “People are very impressionable folks; they see what they wish to see. I am in no way upset that I am on this listing. In the event that they wish to see the satan, allow them to see him.”
The newest sanctions goal Mr Prigozhin and a few of his luxurious belongings over “affect operations” linked to the US 2018 mid-term elections.
As soon as once more, the US authorities says, his IRA used “fictitious personas on social media and disseminated false info”. The actions aren’t thought to have distorted the US election outcomes.
The US believes he funds the company through Harmony Catering.
The US sanctions title three personal jets and a luxurious yacht allegedly utilized by Mr Prigozhin, his household and associates – luxuries registered within the Seychelles and Cayman Islands offshore tax havens.
US people and companies at the moment are prohibited from doing enterprise with him or offering companies for his jets and yacht, known as St Vitamin. The jets have flown many instances to locations in Africa, the Center East and Europe lately, the US assertion says.
Harmony Catering has now been ordered by a Moscow court docket to pay compensation to oldsters over a meals poisoning outbreak.
Mr Prigozhin’s agency offers meals for Moscow’s colleges, however final December about 130 kindergarten youngsters fell sick with dysentery.
The oligarch’s African cookbook
Analysis by Fb and web specialists at Stanford College factors to opinion-forming operations on social media in Africa, linked to Mr Prigozhin.
On 30 October Fb mentioned it had suspended three networks of Russian web accounts geared toward covertly influencing occasions in a number of African nations.
The Russian origins of the “inauthentic” behaviour have been masked through the use of native nationals, it mentioned.
The primary community focused: Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
The second community focused Sudan and the third targeted on Libya.
A BBC investigation discovered that a minimum of six candidates have been provided cash by Russians in Madagascar’s 2018 presidential elections.
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Media captionBBC Africa Eye studies from Madagascar on Russian affect
Mr Prigozhin dismissed the Fb allegations, saying the US media big was “indulging in PR for itself”.
A yr in the past Russia despatched 175 navy instructors to the Central African Republic (CAR) – a rustic racked by militia violence – to assist the military of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
Wagner mercenaries are reported to be lively in CAR, the place Russia has received gold and diamond mining concessions. France, CAR’s former colonial grasp, additionally has a navy presence within the nation.
It was whereas making an attempt to analyze a suspected hyperlink between the mines and the mercenary group that three Russian journalists have been shot useless in an ambush in 2018. No person has been charged in reference to it.
A CNN investigation unearthed a CAR authorities mining contract with Lobaye Make investments, a Russian agency run by Yevgeny Khodotov, one other St Petersburg businessman reported to be linked to Mr Prigozhin’s community.
However Lobaye Make investments is shrouded in secrecy, and Mr Prigozhin has denied any hyperlink to it.
Russian troopers belonging to an outfit known as Sewa Safety are defending President Touadéra. It’s suspected of being a entrance firm for Wagner.
Final month President Putin hosted 43 African leaders within the Black Sea resort of Sochi, underlining Russia’s new international ambition. He’s eager to revive Moscow’s Soviet-era ties with African nations, difficult the West.
What are Putin’s intentions in Africa?
What else has Mr Prigozhin been doing?
His alleged hyperlink to Wagner is thru his navy catering enterprise: below President Putin he received an enormous deal to feed the Russian armed forces.
The US Treasury has put Wagner on the sanctions listing too, saying it “despatched troopers to combat alongside separatists in jap Ukraine”.
It says Mr Prigozhin “has intensive enterprise dealings” with the Russian defence ministry.
The oligarch’s newest enterprise is equally aligned with Mr Putin’s agenda.
He’s heading a brand new pro-Kremlin media group known as Patriot. The group says it would counter “anti-Russia” media that “don’t discover the nice issues which might be taking place within the nation”.
It brings collectively 4 information web sites based mostly in St Petersburg: RIA FAN information company, Narodnye Novosti, Ekonomika Segodnya and Politika Segodnya.
Its mixed viewers is reckoned to be better than that of state information company Tass or pro-Kremlin broadcaster RT.
Mr Prigozhin mentioned he was glad to go Patriot’s board of trustees.
Analysis by the BBC’s Laurence Peter