Russian Firm Dodging U.S. Questions on ‘Putin’s Chef’ Ties
(Bloomberg) -- The only Russian entity that has responded to U.S. charges of meddling in the 2016 presidential election could be held in contempt of court in Washington for not answering subpoenas ahead of its April trial.
Concord Management and Consulting LLC -- controlled by a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin -- was given one day to explain why it hasn’t responded to prosecutors’ requests for documents including emails or payment records tied to Russia’s troll farm, the Internet Research Agency.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who’s overseeing the case, also set a March 2 hearing on the matter. Jury selection is set to start April 1.
Concord is one of three Russian businesses and 13 individuals charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller with creating fake social media posts and carrying out other activities to influence U.S. voters in favor of Donald Trump. The company, which allegedly bankrolled the multimillion-dollar effort, was the only Russian party to answer the charges, pleading not guilty in May 2018.
Eric Dubelier, Concord’s lawyer with Reed Smith LLP in Washington, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
The U.S. seeks to identify the extent of the relationship between Concord and the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency. The subpoenas ask for emails and calendar entries for Concord’s controlling officer, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who’s suspected of meeting frequently with Internet Research Agency employees and financing the alleged conspiracy.
Both Prigozhin and the Internet Research Agency have also been charged by U.S. prosecutors but have not responded. A restaurateur, Prigozhin has been nicknamed “Putin’s chef” because he catered the Russian president’s functions.
Trump has called Mueller’s 22-month investigation a fraud and said he accepts Putin’s claim that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 election.
In a recent court filing, the U.S. said Concord failed to substantively respond to its subpoenas even after the judge ordered the Russian company to do so. Concord also allegedly failed to hand over responsive documents that the government had acquired from other sources.
That finding “underscores the conclusion that Concord has not even seriously attempted to comply with the trial subpoenas, and perhaps has no intent to do so,” the U.S. said.
Prosecutors said in a Thursday filing that Concord responded to one subpoena by transmitting 164 pages of Russian language tax and corporate registration documents that identified Prigozhin as Concord’s owner but nothing else. The files also showed the title of general director had been repeatedly transferred among several people, including Prigozhin’s assistant, the U.S. said.
The Russian company said in a heavily redacted court filing earlier this month that prosecutors are trying to introduce into the case “hundreds of thousands of pages of prejudicial hearsay evidence -- virtually all of it having no connection to Concord whatsoever.”
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