Hacked CV gives insight into the Wagner Group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin

Hacked CV gives insight into the Wagner Group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin

Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine has thrust into the global spotlight one of President Vladimir Putin’s close aides: Yevgeny Prigozhin, whom Western media referred to as “Putin’s chef” for years because he ran a catering business used by the Kremlin. Now better known as the founder of the Wagner Group, the notorious Russian mercenary army, Prigozhin has seized on the war in Ukraine to move out of the shadows, becoming one of Russia’s most recognized political actors.

While the broad strokes of his meteoric rise from the Russian criminal justice system to the highest echelons of Putin’s war machine are widely known, much about him remains unclear, especially as Prigozhin has skillfully controlled the new narrative around him.

But a once-private document uncovered in a mass hack of Russian companies and agencies adds new details to Prigozhin’s biography and rise to power. The document, which The Intercept is publishing, was found in hacked emails from Capital Legal Services, a Russian law firm that represented Prigozhin in a number of endeavors, including appealing European sanctions, targeting journalists who exposed his connections to Wagner, and fighting U.S. charges for election interference. Last year, The Intercept reported in depth on those efforts, as well as his lawyers’ successful efforts to lobby Interpol, the international police agency, to remove a red notice against him.

The five-page document, attached to an October 2021 email from Capital Legal Services, is a point-by-point biography of Prigozhin that appears to have been prepared by his lawyers as they worked to contest his growing reputation as a global warlord – a reputation that Prigozhin has now embraced, as Wagner’s involvement in Ukraine raised his profile in Russia and abroad. The document often refers to Prigozhin’s achievements in uplifting terms, reminiscent of his own bombastic style, and at times reads like a CV and includes widely reported biographical details as well as curious anecdotes, as a reference to Indraguzik,” a book of fantasy tales about the inhabitants of the fairyland of Indraguzia, ruled by King Indraguz, which Prigozhin wrote with two of his children, and printed 1,000 copies. The document also includes a list of several dozen senior political figures and heads of state Prigozhin served as a part of its catering business with the Kremlin.

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Notably absent from this detailed biography, however, is what ultimately propelled Prigozhin to global recognition: his role at the head of a mercenary organization that has been accused of widespread atrocities across several continents. Wagner’s prominent role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made Prigozhin a household name in Russia and elsewhere, a rumored challenger to Putin and, some have speculated, a potential threat to be eliminated. Until last fall, Prigozhin always denied his connections to Wagner, before abruptly embracing them and embarking on a PR tour to increase his visibility and association with the group. The US government recently listed Wagner as a transnational criminal organization, and some in Congress have called for it to be designated a foreign terrorist organization.

A representative for Prigozhin did not respond to a request for comment nor challenge the document’s authenticity. Capital Legal Services did not respond to a request for comment.

From robbery to election interference

Much of the document matches widely circulated accounts of Prigozhin’s life. He was born on June 1, 1961 in Leningrad – today’s St. Petersburg – the son of a nurse and a mining engineer, who died when Prigozhin was 9. A promising skier, according to the document, Prigozhin left the sport due to an injury and later worked as a coach at a children’s sports school. In 1979 he received a suspended sentence for theft, and two years later he was convicted on four charges ranging from armed robbery to fraud to “involvement of minors in criminal activity” and sentenced to 13 years in a penal colony. According to the document, Prigozhin broke the terms of his imprisonment “regularly” until 1985, when in solitary confinement he began “reading intensively”. In 1988, the Russian Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 10 years, noting that he had “begun corrective behavior”. To earn money, he asked to be transferred to a residential colony for timber work, which the document characterizes as “extremely hard work”.

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Upon his release, in 1990, Prigozhin began but did not complete a pharmacy degree. He married, had three children and for much of the 1990s ran a chain of grocery stores, according to the document. Prigozhin’s biography credits a visit to the United States in 1993 with the inspiration to launch a fast-food chain in Russia, which led to him opening a network of more than 100 hot dog stands and earned him his first $1 million. In the following years, Prigozhin opened a food factory, a bar and an exclusive restaurant on a used ship, which, according to the document, “immediately became the most fashionable place in St. Petersburg.”

He eventually consolidated his ventures under Concord Management and Consulting: a network of restaurants, fast food establishments and construction companies working on commercial properties. He began grooming Russian political leaders in 2000, just as Putin ascended to the presidency.

FILE - In this Monday, July 19, 2006, file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S. President George W. Bush attend a working dinner with the other leaders of the G8 nations, while Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin stands, right, in St. Petersburg , Russia.  While Russian officials have downplayed a US indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 US presidential election through an elaborate social media campaign, former Internet trolls employed at the same facility see them as well-founded.  The indictment claimed that Yevgeny Prigozhin _ a wealthy entrepreneur and restaurateur called "Putin's chef" _ funneled money to set up the troll factory that sent operatives to the US, created fictitious social media accounts and used them to spread tendentious messages.  (Sergei Zhukov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, file)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and former US President George W. Bush attend a dinner as Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, right, stands July 19, 2006 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Photo: Sergei Zhukov/AP

“At the time of [the] presidential election,” according to the document, “Yevgeny Prigozhin was a successful businessman and one of the best in his business segment.” The summary of his professional achievements at this time includes a three-page list of socialites for whom he hosted dinners and receptions, and includes a note that he “personally served the heads of state.” Guests ranged from former US presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and then-Prince Charles of Wales, as well as presidents and royalty from dozens of other countries. Among the occasions Prigozhin catered were Putin’s birthday party in 2003 and the inauguration in 2008 of Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin to the presidency.That year, according to the document, Concord was “recognized as the best Russian brand.”

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The document notes that until 2012, when Putin returned to the presidency in an election marred by allegations of fraud, Prigozhin was “politically indifferent”. This, the document suggests, changed after “defamatory articles” by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta threatened Prigozhin’s business and “forced [him] to sell personal possessions to restore it.”

The document notes that Prigozhin was awarded an order “For Merit to the Fatherland”, among other Russian awards. In 2016, it is also noted, he was included on a US sanctions list, and in 2018 he was indicted along with Concord Management and Consulting by special counsel Robert Mueller for meddling in the US presidential election. At the request of the United States, Interpol issued a red notice seeking his arrest, which they lifted two years later, noting that “the prosecution appeared to be political in nature”.

Prigozhin, who remains on trial in the United States, has since publicly admitted his role in the election interference, including in a statement to The Intercept.

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