Russian President Vladimir Putin has ridiculed the U.S. indictment of a Kremlin-connected billionaire for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, scoffing at the idea that someone described as his chef could sway U.S. voters.
In an interview with Austrian public broadcaster ORF on June 4, Putin dismissed as "ridiculous" charges by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller against Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy restauranteur dubbed "Putin's chef" who owns the Internet Research Agency, often described as a troll factory, which allegedly ran a U.S. social-media campaign during the 2016 election.
Mueller's indictment accuses Prigozhin and 12 other Russians of engaging in an alleged election-meddling conspiracy by placing politically divisive posts and ads that reached millions of U.S. voters on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.
"How low the Western information and political environment has fallen if a restaurateur from Russia could influence elections in the United States or a European country," Putin said.
Prigozhin has been dubbed "Putin's chef" by Russian media because his restaurants and catering businesses have hosted the Kremlin leader's dinners with foreign dignitaries.
Putin told ORF that the Russian government had no connection to Prigozhin's activities. He cited the example of Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, who he accused of meddling in the affairs of various countries while "our American friends often tell me that America has nothing to do with it."
"The [U.S.] Department of State would tell you that...it's Mr. Soros's private business. Well, here it's Mr. Prigozhin's private business," Putin said.
Unlike Prigozhin's friendly ties with the Kremlin, Soros is not friendly with the White House. In January, Soros called U.S. President Donald Trump a "danger to the world" and predicted his presidency would be a "purely temporary phenomenon that will disappear in 2020."