Russia: Former Wagner commander recalls witnessing executions
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A warlord from the notorious Wagner Group, the mercenaries fighting for Russia in Ukraine, was able to pass UK anti-money laundering checks by submitting a utility bill in the name of his 81-year-old mother. Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is the founder of the infamous group of mercenaries, was asked by London-based law firm Discreet Law to provide identification documents as part of their anti-money laundering checks.
Leaked emails seen by the Financial Times show that in response to Discreet’s request, Prigozhin’s Russian lawyers sent back a copy of his passport and a gas bill in the name of his mother Violetta for an address in St Petersburg.
At this time, the Wagner leader had been placed under US, EU and UK sanctions and was on the FBI’s international most wanted list.
Replying to the law firm, which operates near Edgware Road in west London, Prigozhin’s lawyers wrote: “The bill is issued in the name of the claimant’s mother (Violetta Prigozhina) who actually lives at the client’s residential address and pays the bills.” In response, a solicitor at Discreet Law replied: “We are satisfied with the [anti-money laundering] documents.”
Discreet Law was hired by Prigozhin in 2021, when the soldier began an attempt to sue UK journalist Eliot Higgins for libel after suggesting he was part of the Wagner Group.
The law firm applied to stop representing Prigozhin in March 2022, approximately a month after Putin ordered his 100,000 troops stationed on the Ukrainian border to advance.
Prior to accepting Prigozhin’s application, Discreet had to submit a request to the UK Treasury because he was under sanctions.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge told the FT that the acceptance of a gas bill to represent a high-risk client was evidence there is an urgent need for reform.
“It is ridiculous that a Russian warlord avoided all suspicion of money laundering by simply using his elderly mother’s gas bills,” she said.
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She also dubbed the decision from Discreet to take on Prigozhin “outrageous”.
“Our bankers, accountants and lawyers all have a duty to perform robust checks on their customers,” said Mrs Hodge.
Discreet founder told the FT his firm “cannot comment on confidential communications with their former clients”.
“Discreet Law’s position is that in taking instructions and undertaking due diligence they have at all times complied fully with their legal and professional obligations,” said founder Roger Gherson.
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This comes as the Daily Mirror spoke with two Wagner mercenaries captured in Ukraine.
The men claim they spoke with Prigozhin whilst they were in prison for murder and brawling. He promised them around £2,200 a month to join his brutal fighting force.
One of the men told the Mirror: “We were told other countries were involved in the war in Ukraine, including Britain and that we were defending Russia against foreign terrorists.
“I met Yevgeny Prizoghin and in total 200 of us agreed to join Wagner Group in exchange for a fresh start, money and I would be able to get a job after leaving Ukraine.
“With a criminal record, I would not get a job and I felt I had no choice, even though it took a week for me to decide to join Wagner.”
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