Analysis: Without fanfare, FBI places Putin’s right-hand man on most wanted list

Yevgeny PrigozhinWITHOUT MUCH FANFARE LAST week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed on its most wanted list Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest collaborators. Known as “Putin’s chef”, for providing catering services to the Kremlin, Prigozhin was indicted in February 2018 by United States prosecutors for his alleged role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. According to the Special Counsel investigation, led by Robert Mueller, Prigozhin bankrolled the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which in turn played a central coordinating role in the effort to influence the outcome of the elections.

But it is one thing to be indicted by the US government, and quite another to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. What does this mean? And why did the FBI wait three years to place Prigozhin on its list of infamy?

With characteristic flamboyance, Prigozhin boasted victory against the FBI back in March of 2020, when US federal prosecutors requested that the Mueller-era criminal case against Concord Management and Consulting (CMC) be dismissed. Founded in 1995, CMC is Prigozhin’s flagship company. According to the US government, CMC was used to fund the IRA’s activities in the run-up to the 2016 US elections. Although some were surprised by that decision, it made sense from an intelligence point of view. US federal prosecutors said at the time that it would not be possible to prove the allegations against CMC due to a “classification determination”. The term basically meant that the US government could not prove the claims made against CMC without revealing “methods and sources”. The term refers to witnesses that have probably been recruited as US government assets, as well as to methods of surveillance that the government wishes to keep secret.

Even though the individual indictment against Prigozhin was never dropped, the flamboyant Russian boasted at the time that the dismissal of the case against CMC proved that he was not implicated in the US election meddling affair. He became even more boastful after September of last year, when Interpol removed his name from its international alert list. He reportedly began traveling outside Russia again, something that he had stopped doing after his 2018 indictment, out of an abundance of caution. At that time, everyone assumed that US prosecutors would eventually drop the case against Prigozhin too, for the same reason they had dropped the CMC case —namely a “classification determination”.

That is why many observers were extremely surprised last week, when in fact the exact opposite happened. How can it be explained? The fact that the FBI has now added Prigozhin’s name to its “most wanted” list means that it now believes it has enough evidence to prosecute him without compromising “methods and sources”. This could mean that new evidence has emerged in the past year, which is possible to share with a jury without compromising methods. It is also possible that the sources of this information —probably Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assets— are now in safety in the US or elsewhere, and that the US government is not concerned about potential threats to their well-being. It also probably means that the FBI is redoubling its efforts to prosecute those behind the meddling of the 2016 US elections under the new administration of President Joe Biden.

However, it is also worth remembering here that CMC is not only accused of being behind the IRA, but also of being behind the Wagner Group of Russian private military contractors. Wagner is a private Russian security firm that many claim operates as an arm of Russian military intelligence. Its personnel operates around the world as employees of a private paramilitary entity, allegedly in order to afford the Kremlin “plausible deniability” capabilities for operations in the Middle East, Africa, and even Eastern Europe. CMC is said to be the parent company of Wagner, and is used to pay Wagner contractors. That way, the theory goes, these contractors are not paid directly by the Kremlin. Instead, the Kremlin contracts a variety of CMC services, including catering, consulting, etc. The Kremlin then overpays CMC, which allegedly diverts some of the surplus funds to pay Wagner employees. In the past year, Wagner has become more active in both Syria and —especially— Libya, where it is basically pulling the strings in General Khalifa Haftar’s Russian-backed Libyan National Army (LNA).

There is strong speculation that the Wagner group and Russia had at a minimum supervisory roles in last week’s attempted assassination of Government of National Accord (GNA) Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha. The attempted assassination was an effort to destabilize the ongoing negotiations between the GNA and the LNA. Some believe that the Russians are strongly intent on reigniting the war in the oil-rich country. It is likely that Washington was alarmed by the attempted assassination of Bashagha, for which many at the Pentagon and CIA are strongly placing the blame on Wagner. So it is likely that the decision to place Prigozhin on the FBI’s most wanted list may also be related to his alleged connection with Wagner.

In short, the FBI’s move was a message to Russia that the US government now believes it has enough information to prosecute and possibly convict Prigozhin without compromising “methods and sources”. It was also a message to Prigozhin that he should curtail his activities abroad. Lastly, it was likely also a response to the situation in Libya, where Wagner is emerging as a major force on the ground.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 March 2021 | Permalink

3 Responses to Analysis: Without fanfare, FBI places Putin’s right-hand man on most wanted list

  1. Thunder_Intelligence says:

    Great research and constraint analysis. When the article states, “Some believe that the Russians are strongly intent…”, a link to such publication or source would improve the article further.

  2. Grog says:

    It is not legitimate or fair to hold foreign nationals to standards that the US government itself does not adhere to. Victoria Nuland bragged about spending $5Billion$ to artificially pump up the opposition in Ukraine prior to the overthrow of the elected president. And was caught on tape dictating the stooges in the post-coup government. So why isn’t Nuland on the FBI’s Most Wanted list? One rule for me and another rule for you is the stuff tyrannies are made of.

  3. Thunder_Intelligence says:

    “ It is not legitimate or fair to hold foreign nationals to standards that the US government itself does not adhere to. Victoria Nuland bragged about spending $5Billion$“ – Grog

    Exactly what is the USA version of Wagner, and when were the pro-democracy in Ukraine armed by USA like LNA is by Russia?

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