One of the enduring mysteries in the U.S. federal court case against Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch charged for his alleged involvement in the Kremlin-orchestrated campaign to interfere in America’s 2016 presidential elections, is Prigozhin’s decision to respond to the charges at all. Since Russian law prohibits the extradition of its citizens when they are accused of crimes committed abroad, Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg restaurateur close to President Vladimir Putin, had little reason to fear the long arm of U.S. law.
Indeed, given his Kremlin ties, Prigozhin would have been well within his rights to believe that his friends in high places would insulate him, his company, Concord Management and Consulting, and its subsidiary, the notorious Internet Research Agency, from having to endure a lengthy and expensive criminal trial in the United States. After prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion this week to dismiss charges against Concord and the Internet Research Agency, however, it seems like Prigozhin was at least half right, but for all the wrong reasons. In dropping the prosecution, the Justice Department cited, among other reasons, an unspecified “change in the balance of the government’s proof due to a classification determination” as well as “the risk of exposure of law enforcement’s tools and techniques.”
Prigozhin now appears so certain that he and his businesses can prevail in the American court system that this week he threatened to sue the U.S. government for an unbelievable $50 billion in damages for wrongful prosecution. Known the world over as “Putin’s chef,” Prigozhin seems to have just the right recipe for dishing out harsh lessons to a superpower in sharp decline and demonstrating that the U.S. is grossly ill-equipped to defend itself from information warfare. If Prigozhin succeeded in bringing a case against the Justice Department—and that is a very big if—federal prosecutors could once again find themselves in a position of having to choose between protecting secret sources and methods and shutting down what would amount to another Russian proxy attack. With his potential countersuit, Prigozhin could turn the strengths of America’s judicial discovery process into another weapon in Russia’s information war, as he tries to discredit the original charges against him and sow further political discord in the U.S.