gold, diamonds (and biscuits), so Putin's chef became a millionaire - Corriere.it

gold, diamonds (and biscuits), so Putin's chef became a millionaire - Corriere.it


The armed rebellion of Yevgeny Prigozhin and his notorious group of Wagner mercenaries stops a stone's throw (or rather: 200 km) from Moscow. But how was it possible that a man who built it his fortune in the world of catering has come to lead a military group capable of jeopardizing the stability of a country like Russia? Some clues come by looking at the career of Prigozhin, still known today by the nickname of Putin's chef and today a millionaire. Precisely in these hours there is talk of Prigozhin's treasure: five thousand banknotes for a value of about four billion rubles, the equivalent of about 44 million euros, were found by the Russian security forces in the St. Petersburg headquarters of the Wagner group. In an audio message published on Telegram, Prigozhin himself confirmed the find, explaining that it was money mainly "intended for the payment of salaries", because his private army "has always used cash for all payments". Which assumes funds and liquid assets of billions of rubles.

The years as a chef and entrepreneur

The Wagner leader's beginnings are humble. Born in the same city as Russian President Putin, St. Petersburg, in 1961, Prigozhin is nine years younger than the Russian president. The early stages of his life took place away from the Kremlin and always on the edge of illegality. In 1981, according to the investigative site Meduza, he was arrested and sentenced to 13 years in prison for theft and other crimes. The sentence is reduced to nine years and Prigozhin, once free, decides to stay out of trouble, opening a hot dog stand with the help of his father. Business is good and Prigozhin proves to be a skilled investor. He opens a first restaurant, 'The old customs'. Then a second venue, this time a luxury one, located on a boat on the Neva: 'New Island'. In these years he met Putin who loves to bring politicians of the caliber of Jaques Chirac to George W. Bush to the Prigozhin restaurant. As an entrepreneur, the chef then opened several catering companies at the service of the military and the canteens of power. And he broadens his range of action by encroaching on politics. We owe him the birth of one of the biggest troll-factories which, according to the US and the West, interfered in the American elections then won by Donald Trump.

The military breakthrough: from entrepreneur to oligarch at the top of Russia's largest private army

Prigozhin's most famous creature for the Wagner brigade. A private militia, founded in 2013 by former Russian intelligence colonel Utkin and subsequently taken over by Putin's chef in 2014. According to Prigozhin, the group would number over 50,000 men, the obligatory conditional in the absence of third-party sources. It is an organization not institutionally part of the Russian army but which receives important funding from the Kremlin. The range of action of Wagner, in fact an organization of mercenaries famous for their brutality, over the years has extended from the Middle East to Libya passing through sub-Saharan Africa where the militia has been active in the main internal conflicts that occurred in Mali , Sudan, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and South Sudan. Here Wagner obtained the concession of some gold and diamond mines in exchange for the protection offered to local leaders.

The mines and the diamonds

Prigozhin is in fact the owner of Meroe Gold, a Sudanese company that deals with gold mining. The organization was sanctioned by the US in 2020 and by the EU together with other companies attributable to the brigade: M-Invest Lobaye Invest Sarlu and Diamville which extracts diamonds. As the Financial Times recalls, Putin's chef has always been skilled in circumventing sanctions: for example, by sending air cargo from Russia to Sudan of "ginger biscuits" when in reality they were tons of gold bars.

The role in the war

The Wagner group then conducted military campaigns in the Donbass, where in 2014 it joined the separatist formations of the self-proclaimed people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. With the start of the Russian invasion, on February 24, 2022, Putin's chef became one of the protagonists of the war and last November Wagner was included by the Eurochamber in the list of terrorist organizations. In June 2023 the group occupied the city of Rostov, the nodal center of the organization of Russian military actions against Kiev, starting a rapid advance towards Moscow, interrupted 200 km away from the capital following a negotiation conducted with the mediation of the president Belarusian AG Lukashenko. The details of the agreement that stopped the militiamen are not known but press rumors speak of billions of rubles in addition to the dismissal of the charges of armed insurrection.



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