Russian oligarch unmasked as behind Russia 'troll factory'

Evgeny Prigozhin, left, a Russian Oligarch and shadowy businessman known as 'Putin's chef' has long been rumored to be behind a company called the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

Evgeny Prigozhin, a Russian Oligarch and shadowy businessman known as 'Putin's chef' has long been rumored to be behind a company called the Internet Research Agency (IRA)

Evgeny Prigozhin, a Russian Oligarch and shadowy businessman known as 'Putin's chef' has long been rumored to be behind a company called the Internet Research Agency (IRA)

Vladmir Putin's personal 'chef' has been unmasked as the money behind the Russian troll factory that used social media to spread fake news during the US presidential campaign, according to officials briefed on the investigation. 

Evgeny Prigozhin, a Russian Oligarch and shadowy businessman known as 'Putin's chef' has long been rumored to be behind a company called the Internet Research Agency (IRA). 

According to court documents obtained by CNN, the IRA is a secretive technology firm that spread false information and sowed social divisions in the west. The IRA has been at the center of the US investigations into Russian Collusion for months.

Prigozhin, who ran the Russian President's favorite restaurant in St Petersburg and won billions in state catering contracts, is thought to be the IRA's financial backer. 

His involvement and alleged financial backing sheds further light on the alleged Russian meddling in the American election - providing a clear link between the Kremlin and the misinformation efforts.  

Vladmir Putin's personal 'chef' has been unmasked as the money behind the Russian troll factory that used social media to spread fake news during the US presidential campaign, according to officials briefed on the investigation. Prigozhin is pictured on the left, presenting Putin's dinner to him

Vladmir Putin's personal 'chef' has been unmasked as the money behind the Russian troll factory that used social media to spread fake news during the US presidential campaign, according to officials briefed on the investigation. Prigozhin is pictured on the left, presenting Putin's dinner to him

Prigozhin (left), who ran the Russian President's favorite restaurant in St Petersburg and won billions in state catering contracts, is thought to be the IRA's financial backer
His involvement and alleged financial backing sheds further light on the alleged Russian meddling in the American election - providing a clear link between the Kremlin and the misinformation efforts

Prigozhin (left), who ran the Russian President's favorite restaurant in St Petersburg and won billions in state catering contracts, is thought to be the IRA's financial backer. His involvement and alleged financial backing sheds further light on the alleged Russian meddling in the American election - providing a clear link between the Kremlin and the misinformation efforts

A former employee who spoke to the independent Russian TV network RAIN, said the company was like any normal company in which employees would show up every day for shift work. 

But, when they got to their computer they would turn off their VPN so that it wasn't clear where they were working from.

The documents reviewed by CNN show that the organization had a monthly budget of about $1million in 2013, and that that money was split between its different departments. The departments included Russian-language operations and English social media use. 

And in one of the company's departments, called the Department of Provocations, employees had a goal to 'influence opinions,' according to the employee.

At work, these Russian 'trolls' would pose as Americans and make payments to actual activists in the United States to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues. Pictured above Russian President Vladmir Putin meets with former President Obama in 2015 

At work, these Russian 'trolls' would pose as Americans and make payments to actual activists in the United States to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues. Pictured above Russian President Vladmir Putin meets with former President Obama in 2015 

WHO IS EVGENY PRIGOZHIN? 

Evgeny Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch known as President Vladmir Putin's 'personal chef'. 

And now, the shadowy businessman has been linked to the troll factories that spread fake news and discord on social media in the run up to the US Presidential election. 

The Oligarch started his career as a hot dog seller before being sent to jail in the 1980's for fraud and robbery.

He spent nine years there, according to CNN, and moved to St Petersburg when he was released. 

When he was released he went straight into the catering business - renovating the St Petersburg boat and opening New Island in 2001. 

The restaurant is one of six upscale restaurants he owns in the city.

His rise to unfathomable riches and status was born the day Putin, a year into his first term as president, popped into his eatery. 

Putin loved his food and quickly turned to him to cater his birthday parties and dinners with visiting leaders.

In 2002, in fact, he served President George W Bush truffles and caviar during a summit in St Petersburg. 

He later won multiple lucrative catering contracts for schools and the Russian armed forces.

Since his involvement with Putin he has grown his commercial empire, acquiring two different businesses in St Petersburg. 

One of those businesses, Concord Management and Consulting, has been linked to the Internet Research Act (IRA), which spread fake news stories and posted about controversial topics during the 2016 US presidential election. 

'There was a strategy document,' the individual said.  

'It was necessary to know all the main problems of the united states of america. tax problems, the problem of gays, sexual minorities, weapons.'

The IRA also made many employees watch the Netflix series House of Cards to help them improve their English. 

Another document obtained by CNN outlines a 2013 concord Management and Consultant Contract. Concord Management is Prigozhin's main business based in St Petersburg. 

The contract that was unearthed was for 20millon Rubles - or $650,000 - worth of construction work at the IRA. It was signed by the IRA's director general. 

The same records also show that a Concord Consulting employee later joined the IRA.   

At work, these Russian 'trolls' would pose as Americans and make payments to actual activists in the United States to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues.  

The RBC published a major investigation on Tuesday that looked into the work of the IRA since 2015. 

The paper identified 118 accounts of groups, mostly on Facebook, but also on Twitter and Instagram. Those groups would post stories and advertisements that incited racial animosity and supported a variety of groups, from Black Lives Matter and immigration activists to Texas independence and gun rights. 

The employees also contacted about 100 real activists in the US to help them organize protests and events, often paying for them. 

For example, the IRA spent $80,000 to hire Americans to stage rallies in 40 different US cities. The activists did not know at the time that they were being supported by a Russian disinformation organization. 

One of those events was an anti-Muslim rally in Twin Falls, Idaho.  

None of the groups or events directly benefited or supported Trump, but they did provide an environment in which pro-Trump rhetoric was popular and well-received.