Putin ally to sue US for US$50 bil over ‘wrongful persecution’

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting of the Prosecutor General’s Office Board in Moscow. (AP pic)

MOSCOW: An ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who says he was “wrongfully persecuted” by the US, which claimed he meddled in 2016 elections, vowed Tuesday to sue Washington for US$50 billion in damages.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the rich Russian businessman dubbed “Putin’s chef”, made the announcement after the US Justice Department on Monday abruptly dropped charges against his company Concord.

Prosecutors had accused Concord of being behind a campaign to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

This development meant that allegations like “Prigozhin meddled in a US presidential election” or “Russia meddled in a US presidential election” were “lies and fiction”, the secretive businessman said.

Concord was preparing a lawsuit for “wrongful persecution,” Prigozhin said in a statement, adding he would seek US$50 billion in damages.

The US authorities had dropped the case because they were scared of bad “publicity and a fair trial”, he added.

The US Justice Department announced late on Monday it was withdrawing the eight-count indictment of Concord Management and Consulting, just weeks before the trial was due to begin.

Concord, which funds the Saint Petersburg-based troll factory known as the Internet Research Agency, was named in an indictment against 13 Russian individuals and three companies.

It was one of the major outcomes of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

The US government concluded that further proceedings against Concord “promotes neither the interests of justice nor the nation’s security”, said the Justice Department.

The Internet Research Agency, Mueller charged, actively pumped disinformation, memes and fake news into social media via false accounts to influence US voters and tilt the election to help Trump.

Like Mueller, US intelligence chiefs concluded that the Concord-run operation was one half of a sweeping campaign overseen by Putin to help Trump and hurt his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The other half was hacking by Russian intelligence.

Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU figured heavily in the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, which concluded that Russia hacked the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to help Trump.