Jurors should be told that the Russian oligarch accused of bankrolling a notorious troll farm to meddle in the 2016 election was nicknamed “Putin’s chef” at his upcoming criminal trial, federal prosecutors said in a filing Thursday.
The case is among the last remaining threads from ex-special counsel Robert Mueller probe into election interference.
Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and 12 Internet Research Agency (IRA) employees were among the 25 Russians indicted by Mr. Mueller’s team in February 2018.
Prosecutors say Mr. Prigozhin organized and financed the activities of IRA, which is accused of using fraudulent social media accounts to sow discord ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Mr. Prigozhin has been nicknamed “Putin’s chef” for the catering contracts his company Concord Management and Consulting had secured with the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin and state-run businesses.
Attorneys for Mr. Prigozhin have fought to keep that nickname from being used at his upcoming criminal trial set for April saying it will unfairly prejudice jurors.
Prosecutors countered Thursday that the nickname is not prejudicial and part of the evidence they say will prove Mr. Prigozhin directed the troll farm.
Prosecutors redacted exactly what that evidence will be, but said when taken together with the “Putin’s chef” nickname will prove that “Prigozhin led and oversaw the IRA.”
“Both sets of evidence are highly probative of Prigozhin’s activity, knowledge and intentions and thus bears on Concord’s role in the conspiracy,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.
They said the nickname is not evidence that Mr. Prigozhin was working at the behest of Mr. Putin to interfere with the U.S. election.
“The government does not intend to argue that Putin directed the conspiracy,” prosecutors wrote. “Given the limited way in which the government’s evidence might touch on the Russian government, the ‘natural use’ of the evidence ‘would be for its appropriate use.’”
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich of the District of Columbia will decide the issue and other disputes in a hearing Friday.
Although Mr. Prigozhin has fought the charges against him, he has refused to appear in court. So far, he is the only Russian defendant to respond to the indictment claiming he is charged with “a make believe crime.”