A private jet believed to belong to the Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s chef”, has been flying nearly every month to the Near East and Africa, where Russian mercenaries are known to be fighting, according to an investigation by the Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
The aircraft, a Raytheon HAWKER 800XP with the registration number M-VITO, officially belongs to a company in the Seychelles with an unknown owner. The authors of the investigation believe it belongs to Prigozhin, based on information from his daughter’s social network account and the fact that the same company owns a yacht that was used by the Prigozhins on a family holiday.
Novaya Gazeta has monitored all of the plane’s movements between the end of 2016 and the start of 2019. Its most frequent flights have been between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Flights to Beirut hold second place (48 times in two years). The news agency believes that Beirut is merely an intermediate stop before the plane continues to Syria or Africa. The aircraft was documented 21 times over Syria, 27 times over Egypt, and also in Libya. According to the Kenyan media, it also made stops in Sudan and Chad, although there is no aircraft monitoring coverage in these countries.
It is not known whether Prigozhin was on board during these flights. A source with access to registration information confirmed one flight by the businessman to Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, accompanied by two persons presumed to be mercenaries for the Private Military Company (PMC) “Wagner”.
Novaya Gazeta asked Prigozhin questions through the press service of his company Concord. As in other cases, the answers were published by Concord’s group on the Russian social network VKontakte. Prigozhin replied that the M-VITO business jet does not belong to him, and that he does not use it. He also denied making a trip to Sudan, and declined to answer any questions about his possible interests in Africa.
At the end of November, Bloomberg learned that PMC Wagner mercenaries are active in 10 African countries.