Russian ‘mercenary boss’ Prigozhin’s 99 calls to Putin’s aide ‘prove Kremlin link to shadowy Wagner group’
AN alleged Russian mercenary boss made 99 phone calls to Vladimir Putin's chief of staff within eight months, leaked records show.
Moscow has denied links to Yevgeny Prigozhin, dubbed “Putin's chef”, and his alleged security firm Wagner Group insisting the businessman provides catering services to the government.
However, data published by investigative news outlet Bellingcat shows restaurateur Prigozhin was in regular contact with Russia's top officials.
He used his personal phone number to make the calls to elite members of Putin's regime between 2013 and 2014, it has been reported.
Wagner soldiers have fought in war zones such as Libya, Syria and the Central African Republic but authorities have strongly denied they take orders from the Kremlin.
Strongman leader Putin, who once headed up the country's spy agency the FSB, was previously pictured with Wagner troops at a government function.
Lieutenant colonel Dmitry Utkin, who is believed to have founded the group, was also in the photograph.
According to Bellingcat, Prigozhin called and texted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov 144 times in an eight month period,
He also had 99 phone conversations with Anton Vayno, who is chief of staff to the Russian leader, the leaked records show.
The alleged mercenary leader also made contact with Putin's domestic politics boss 54 times and had 25 phone calls with Russia's head of military intelligence Alexey Dyumin, the report says.
Emails seen by Bellingcat show Prigozhin had at least two face-to-face meetings with Russia's defence minister Sergey Shoigu.
The alleged head of the paramilitary firm also had three phone calls with Russia's ex-ambassador to the US Yury Ushakov, it is reported.
It is “not plausible” that Prigozhin's catering company would require such strong communication with military and defence officials, Bellingcat claims.
Wagner Group’s influence in modern war zones, across four different continents, is undeniable and frightening.
The company, whose members are mostly ex-service personnel, has fought clandestinely in support of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and in Libya where they backed General Khalifa Haftar overthrow the UN-backed government.
In Venezuela, their mission was to protect embattled President Nicolás Maduro from any attempt by opposition sympathisers in his own security forces to detain him, Reuters reported.
Press freedoms in Putin's Russia are notoriously compromised and some reporters who have attempted to investigate Wagner have ended up dead.
Prigozhin, who denies being the leader of the paramilitary group, is alleged to have business interests in Africa and links to armed political groups in Chad and Benin.
He was indicted by US authorities in 2018 who allege he funded Russia's Internet Research Agency, dubbed the “troll factory”.
The controversial firm is alleged to have interfered in the 2016 presidential election by spreading propaganda online
Russia has denied these claims with Putin saying it was “so low” to suspect “a restaurateur from Russia” of influencing the vote in the US.
In the last 10 years, companies associated with Prigozhin reportedly began landing defence contracts services such as catering and cleaning.
He has also won $2bn in contracts to supply food for schools in Moscow since 2009, it has been reported.