“Putin’s Chef” Used US, UK Law Firms to Fight Sanctions
One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest friends used the services of at least four U.K. and U.S. law firms to challenge international sanctions against him, the Intercept news organization revealed Wednesday in its latest investigation.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a restaurant and catering mogul known as “Putin’s Chef” and the leader of the notorious mercenary Wagner Group, has recruited at least four U.K. and U.S. legal firms to assist him in developing a plan to counter EU and U.S. sanctions against him.
Prigozhin is also known for funding the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a troll farm known for spreading disinformation globally. The Wagner Group is also entrusted with spreading disinformation on behalf of the Kremlin, in addition to fighting on the side of troops associated with the Russian government. The IRA was also suspected of interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Prigozhin, as well as the IRA – in Russia also known as Glavset – and the Wagner Group were targeted by the U.S. and EU sanctions.
Some of Prigozhin’s attorneys allegedly attempted to refute the increasing body of information linking him to the mercenary group, which he claimed was the foundation for the penalties against him in an unsuccessful attempt to fight the sanctions.
“As he faced intensifying scrutiny in recent years, and as his businesses came under pressure following sanctions, Prigozhin relied on the services of at least four U.S. and U.K.-based firms,” according to “a cache of hacked emails and documents reviewed by The Intercept.”
It said that the data and emails were discovered after a series of breaches against over 50 Russian firms and government organizations following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February this year, in what looks to be the greatest cumulative hack of a nation-state ever.
Among the firms hacked was Capital Legal Services (CLS), a major Russian law company that represents Prigozhin and has offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Helsinki, Finland.
The hackers’ identity remains unknown, but it’s believed they were associated with the Anonymous-close activists.
According to The Intercept, the leaked emails portray Prigozhin as a guy obsessed with questioning the narrative that has evolved around him — even if he has come to embrace that narrative in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
In addition to requesting assistance from law firms, Prigozhin allegedly urged a number of U.S. officials to help him. A draft letter, discovered among the hacked documents, was addressed to former President Donald Trump, as well as former Attorney General William Barr, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and several other U.S. officials.
“...Prigozhin wrote to former President Donald Trump urging him to appoint former special counsel Robert Mueller to prosecute one of his companies, which U.S. officials had accused of election interference, so that Prigozhin could personally face Mueller in court and clear his name,” according to the report.
“You have been led to believe, in great part due to Mr. Mueller’s accusations against me and my company, that I am of the same mind as Osama bin Laden or El Chapo, both villains that Mr. Mueller has insultingly compared me to in federal court,” Prigozhin wrote, as cited by The Intercept.
Allegedly, the letter was never sent and was written “against the advice of Prigozhin’s U.S. attorneys.”
Prigozhin apparently needed law firms for another reason too – to help him “discredit journalists investigating his shadowy businesses; and sue Eliot Higgins, the founder of the investigative website Bellingcat,” The Intercept said. The strategy was the so-called SLAPP – strategic lawsuits against public participation.
In a tit-for-tat move, Higgins’ lawyers sued the British lawyers who sued him for slander on behalf of Prigozhin earlier this year.
The law company Discreet Law LLP reportedly launched a SLAPP suit against Higgins, which is meant to scare or gag opponents into silence by saddling them with the price of defending oneself in court.
Higgins and Bellingcat were not alone on Prigozhin’s list of whom to sue.
Prigozhin’ attorneys fought EU sanctions on Wagner’s role in Libya in a draft application linked to several of the emails seen by The Intercept, notably by discrediting the work of multiple media sources that reported on it, including the BBC, Reuters and Al Jazeera.