March 4, 2020 / 6:43 PM / a month ago

'Putin's cook' seeks to distance himself from U.S. election meddling

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Russian businessman dubbed “Putin’s cook” for his close ties to Russia’s president sought in a court filing on Wednesday to distance himself and his company from accusations by American prosecutors of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

FILE PHOTO: Evgeny Prigozhin (L) assists Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a dinner with foreign scholars and journalists at the restaurant Cheval Blanc on the premises of an equestrian complex outside Moscow November 11, 2011.REUTERS/Misha Japaridze/Pool/File Photo

The filing by Evgeny Prigozhin marked the first time any corporate representative for St. Petersburg-based Concord Management and Consulting LLC had responded directly to accusations by the U.S. prosecutors that it had unlawfully defied subpoenas in a criminal case against it.

Prigozhin and Concord were charged in 2018 with conspiracy to defraud the United States for their alleged role in election meddling aimed at sowing discord in the United States, helping Donald Trump win the presidency and harming his opponent Hillary Clinton. Concord pleaded not guilty.

In a sworn affidavit filed in federal court in Washington, Prigozhin said he was not in charge of the company at the time that U.S. prosecutors have said it funded a so-called troll farm engaged in a propaganda campaign during the 2016 race. Prigozhin also said he did not possess or had no way of searching for corporate records subpoenaed by prosecutors.

“As is common practice for many Russian organizations, Concord does not as a rule keep electronic copies of business documents,” Prigozhin said in the affidavit.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich had set a deadline for Wednesday for Prigozhin’s company to respond or face being held in civil contempt.

Prigozhin is a Russian catering tycoon nicknamed “Putin’s cook” by Russian media because of banquets he has organized for Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. prosecutors have described him as having with ties with Putin. The charges stem from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that documented Moscow’s election interference.

Concord is the only one of the three Russian entities charged in the case to have hired legal counsel in the United States to respond to the charges. It is not expected to have any corporate representatives present when the scheduled trial begins in April.

Prosecutors accused Concord of defying subpoenas for corporate records and internet IP addresses. Prigozhin, in his affidavit, said he could not find anything pertaining to IP addresses.

“I reviewed the contracts between Concord and internet service providers with which it contracted between January 1, 2014 and February 1, 2018. These contracts do not specify a particular IP address provided to Concord during that period, and no other records have been kept, because having a particular IP address has never been relevant to Concord’s business,” Prigozhin wrote.

Prigozhin also said Concord “has gone to great lengths to participate in this case” and would participate in the trial through its American attorney.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham

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