A Russian oligarch charged in the U.S. with trying to sway the 2016 election ordered “at least one killing” and attacks on several of his opponents, according to a report in a Russian newspaper.
Yevgeny Prigozhin was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in February for allegedly funding a St. Petersburg-based troll farm called the “Internet Research Agency.” His bookkeeper, Elena Khusyaynova, was charged Friday with managing money at the troll farm, which prosecutors say attempted to sow discord in U.S. politics through social media.
Prigozhin—an ally of Vladimir Putin who became known as the Russian president’s “chef” because he caters events at the Kremlin—now stands accused by a former security aid of playing a central role in deadly violence against his adversaries, according to an Associated Press report based on an article published Monday by The Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian publication.
The article, written by reporter Denis Korotkov, centers around interviews with Valery Alemchenko—an ex-con who worked as a security aide to Prigozhin. Alemchenko claims he arranged the slaying of an opposition blogger and attacks on others for Prigozhin.
The former convict also told The Novaya Gazeta that several people who worked for the mogul went to Syria in 2017, where they tested a mysterious toxin on Syrians who wouldn’t fight for the country’s strongman president, Bashar al-Assad.
The Novaya Gazeta said two sources have backed up Amelchenko’s claims.
In a disturbing twist, Russian police say Amelchenko has gone missing since participating in the series of interviews with Korotkov. The former Prigozhin associate disappeared earlier in October, soon after he met the journalist. At the time, he told Kortokov that “he was being followed,” the AP report states.
Korotkov, who received a call from Amelchenko’s mobile phone hours after their meeting, went to his home, discovering “two cell phones and what looked like his shoe lying on the ground,” per the AP. Days before his article ran in The Novaya Gazeta, the journalist was sent a funeral wreath, and someone else left a basket with a severed goat’s head at the newspaper’s office, the AP reports.
Oleg Simonov, who was also on Prigozhin’s security team, died in 2017 “under murky circumstances.” Simonov had been suspected of injecting an opposition activist’s husband with poison, the AP reports.
Contact information for Prigozhin’s lawyer was not immediately available.
Shortly after Prigozhin’s indictment early this year, The Washington Post published details about his colorful past, including his aspiration to become a professional cross-country skier. But the Leningrad native was hit in 1981 with a 12-year prison sentence for prostitution, fraud, and robbery-related charges instead. He left prison nine years later, just as the Soviet Union was imploding, according to The Washington Post.
After working as a ski trainer and studying at a pharmacy institute—from which he was expelled—he made his debut in the hospitality industry with a hot-dog stand.
He later opened several luxe restaurants that were patronized by Putin. Prigozhin then started a food service venture in 1996, ultimately securing business feeding the military and Moscow’s children, The Washington Post said.