Putin Compares Yevgeny Prigozhin, Accused of U.S. Election Meddling, to George Soros

Russian President Vladimir Putin has compared Yevgeny Prigozhin, the businessman dubbed "Putin's chef" and indicted in the U.S. on charges of meddling in the 2016 presidential election, to the billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Prigozhin, 57, runs a number of companies in Russia, including in the restaurant trade, and has lucrative contracts with Moscow. The oligarch is said to have the trust of Putin, who relies on him to carry out sensitive or controversial jobs.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted Prigozhin, along with 12 others, accusing him of funding the Internet Research Agency, a notorious Russian troll farm which used social media to influence and undermine the election.

Prigozhin is also under sanction by the U.S.

Speaking to Austria's ORF broadcaster ahead of his visit to the country, Putin asked if it is really believed that "a man of this kind can affect elections in the US or in any European country?"

George Soros 1
Billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"The downhill of Western politics and media should really be impressive if a restaurant owner from Russia can wield impact on the election in the U.S.," Putin said, reported TASS. "Ask Mr Prigozhin personally and he will tell you the Russian state didn't have anything to do with it."

Putin went on to compare Prigozhin to George Soros, the octogenarian billionaire and philanthropist who through his Open Society Foundation funds pro-democracy and civil rights groups across the world.

Because of his wealth and work supporting progressive causes, Soros, a Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor, is the target of conspiracy theories, often anti-Semitic. His critics accuse him of interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

"There's Mr Soros in the U.S. and he meddles in all sorts of situations around the world, and our American friends often say the U.S. as a country doesn't have anything to do with Soros's private endeavors," Putin said. "And if you take us, that's Mr. Prigozhin's private endeavor."

According to Mueller's indictment in February 2018, the Internet Research Agency "engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes" and those operations were "approved and supported" by Prigozhin.

"From in or around 2014 to the present, Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016," the indictment said.

"Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants' operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump ('Trump Campaign') and disparaging Hillary Clinton."

Prigozhin denies involvement with the Internet Research Agency and Mueller's allegations. The Kremlin also denies any links to the troll farm.