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Feds put $10m bounty on Putin pal accused of bankrolling US election troll farm

The Feds have put up a $10 million reward for information about foreign interference in US elections in general, and more specifically a Russian oligarch and close friend of President Vladimir Putin accused of funding an organization that meddled in the 2016 presidential elections.

The bounty, offered through the US Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program, specifically seeks intel on Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), businessman Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, and any “linked Russian entities and associates for their engagement in US election interference.”

The IRA is a Russian troll super-farm charged with interfering in the 2016 presidential election and thought to have helped Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. 

According to the US government and private security researchers, this gang of cybergoons set up a virtual private network of servers in the US along with hundreds of fake social media accounts purporting to be genuine grass-roots activists to spread fake news, sow political discord, turn Americans against each other, and help stage rallies. The IRA’s work to undermine the American political system started back in 2014, according to the Justice Department, and it operated via several shell companies including Internet Research, MediaSintez, GlavSet, MixInfo, Azimut, and NovInfo.

By the summer of 2016, the troll farm was spending $1.25 million a month targeting Americans with social media messaging, according to an earlier Cisco Talos report [PDF]. 

Prigozhin, meanwhile, was the alleged money man behind the operation. The Russian oligarch has close ties to Putin, garnering him the nickname “Putin’s chef” for his restaurants and catering businesses. And he’s also wanted by the FBI for election interference [PDF]. The bureau describes him as the “primary funder” of the IRA.

Some of his companies including Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering sent funds, recommended workers, and oversaw IRA’s activities, we’re told.

The $10 million reward also names a dozen other Russian nationals that the State Department said carried out IRA’s influence operations during the 2016 presidential election: Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova, Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, Maria Anatolyevna Bovda, Robert Sergeyevich Bovda, Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov, Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, and Vladimir Venkov.

These 12, along with Prigozhin and the IRA, were all indicted [PDF] in 2018 following special counsel Robert Muller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Feds are asking anyone with information on the IRA, Prigozhin or any other Russian individuals and organizations linked to US election interference to contact the Rewards for Justice office via a Tor-based tips-reporting channel. ®