An early business associate of “Putin’s Chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin has a recent business with several Trump advisors

The presidency of Donald Trump provided a deluge of news stories about corrupt political and business networks and global kleptocracy. The varied networks that helped put Trump in the White House need further investigation and exposure. Following is an overview of Yevgeny Prigozhin, several of his business partners and their early business ties with Mikhail Mirilashvili, who now runs a water technology business venture that has involved several close associates of Donald Trump.

In April the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Israel’s main binary options firm, SpotOption, with fraud. A Times of Israel article by Simona Weinglass described SpotOption owners Malhaz Pinhas Patarkazishvili (also known as Pini Peter) and Ran Amiran, and noted that one SpotOption brand belonged to Russian company Trustforex. Pini Peter’s father had been a partner at Trusforex with Igor Gorbenko & Boris Spektor — two longtime partners of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was sanctioned by the U.S. for interference in the 2016 election and also sanctioned for Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

The information about Prigozhin’s business partners Gorbenko and Spektor caught my attention and a researcher known by the pseudonym BrazenCapital highlighted to me that an early business associate of Gorbenko, Spektor and Prigozhin — billionaire Mikhail Mirilashvili — has been connected to several associates of Donald Trump in recent years. The links in this story from Prigozhin to Trump are indirect and pass through multiple people with associations that span many years and do not indicate any wrongdoing. But many of the same names keep appearing in the Trump-Russia story and other names, which have not bubbled up to the surface, are worth more scrutiny.

In 2018 Zarina Zabrisky described the connections among Yevgeny Prigozhin, Igor Gorbenko, Boris Spektor and businessman Mikhail Mirilashvili, who was born in Georgia and then moved to St. Petersburg where he built a business empire. Prigozhin, who is known as ‘Putin’s Chef’ and owns a network of restaurants and catering companies, is also alleged to own private mercenary company Wagner Group which has been embroiled in various scandals in Syria and Africa and is linked to the Kremlin. Prigozhin was indicted by special counsel Mueller for interference in the 2016 presidential election through the Internet Research Agency, aka the troll factory.

According to Novaya Gazeta, Prigozhin started out in the gambling business and in the 1990s ran a company named ZAO Spektr, which was co-owned by Boris Spektor and Igor Gorbenko. Around the same time Spektor and Gorbenko were also founders of Conti Casino in St. Petersburg with Mikhail Mirilashvili. Zabrisky described their connections:

“According to Artyom Kruglov, the editor of the Putinism site, Spector belonged to the organized crime group (OCG) Kutaisskie (“from Kutaisi”) run by Mikhail Mirilashvili, aka “Misha Kutaissky,” one of the richest people in St. Petersburg at the time. Kutaisskie OCG ran the biggest network of casinos in St. Petersburg. In the 1990s, Kutaisskie OCG was the second most influential gang after Tambov-Malyshev OCG. Prigozhin was in charge of running a supermarket network and worked for Kutaisskie until 2000–2001.”

In a 2005 publication calledThe Relationship between the Mass Media and Organised Crime in Post-Soviet Russia: A Sociological Perspective,” Popov Vladimir wrote extensively about Mikhail Mirilashvili. He described Mirilashvili’s reported links to the criminal world, including to Vyacheslav Ivankov (aka Yaponchik) who was a Russian Mafia boss who moved to the U.S. where he frequented Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal casino and lived in Trump Tower before he was sentenced to prison.

While Mirilashvili was building his casinos and other businesses in Russia and Israel he had a direct encounter with the law. In 2000 Mirilashvili’s father was kidnapped and then released and shortly afterwards several of the people involved in the kidnapping turned up dead. In 2003 Mirilashvili was charged with kidnapping (of his father’s abductors) and was convicted and served time in prison. He fought the sentencing and was vindicated and released in 2009, when the European court ruled that his conviction and sentencing were unfair.

Since then Mirilashvili has grown his business and philanthropic empire. A 2018 article by Allison Kaplan Sommer reported that Mirilashvili and his son Yitzhak were questioned in connection with a corruption scandal involving the Israeli Interior Minister (who, like Mirilashvili, had also served time in prison). A quick summary of Mirilashvili’s business deals with his son Yitzhak described the 2013 sale of their 40 percent stake in Russian social media network VKontakte for $1.12 billion, and other ventures:

“They own 5.2 percent of the Israeli oil and gas exploration company ILDC Energy. Michael Mirilashvili’s additional business interests in Israel include Kitaim Venture Capital, Hoshen Argaman Diamonds and Water Gen, whose technologies extract potable water from the air…Mirilashvili (is also) the owner of Israel’s Channel 20, which broadcasts under a license as a Jewish heritage channel, but has plans to set up its own news company with right-wing leanings.”

The Isreali-based company Watergen, Inc. was established in 2009 and acquired by Mirilashvili in 2016. Until recently the CEO of Watergen USA was Edward Russo, who is a former environmental advisor for Trump and the Trump Organization. Russo wrote a book called Donald J. Trump: An Environmental Hero.

Trump ally and periodic Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz is a board member of Watergen USA and is reportedly an investor as well. In 2017 Dershowitz showcased Watergen at the AIPAC annual policy conference in Washington D.C.

An article by Justin Elliott described how Sheldon Adelson, an old friend of Mirilashvili, arranged a meeting for Watergen executives with new EPA head Scott Pruitt in 2017. Pruitt then pushed for a deal to research Watergen’s technology, and despite the objections of EPA officials, Watergen got its research deal.

Mirilashvili and Watergen executives have interacted with heads of state including Germany Chancellor Angela Merkal, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Brazilian President Jair M. Bosonaro. Mirilashvili presented his vision for solving the global crisis of water scarcity at Davos in 2020.

The former CEO of Watergen USA Ed Russo and the former president, Yehuda Kaploun, have now launched a new company call RussKap Holdings, LLC, which per an October 2020 press release, was awarded a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense for atmospheric water generators, in partnership with ADS, Inc. and Trident Water Company. Early this year RussKap Holdings, LLC signed an agreement with Saudi energy company PEMCO to supply atmospheric water generation machines. Note that there is no indication that Mirilashvili has any involvement with Russo and Kaploun’s new business venture.

In addition to Mirilashvili’s recent business venture Watergen, which involved Trump associates Ed Russo, Alan Dershowitz and the support of Sheldon Adelson (who was reportedly not an investor), Mirilashvili’s charitable activities overlap with other Trump associates.

In 2017, former president George W. Bush was awarded a prize by the Israel National Keren Hayesod Foundation and received the award from Mikhail Mirilashvili and Alexander Mashkevich, who both received Defender of Jerusalem awards. Mashkevich co-owns a company called the Eurasia Group which partnered with Bayrock, a development partner of the Trump Organization in Trump Soho and other projects.

Mirilashvili is currently the president and a large donor of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, a branch of the World Jewish Congress, an organization founded in 1936. The former president of the EAJC until 2010 had been Alexander Mashkevich. Mirilashvili became president in 2017, and was accused by one of the original co-founders of redirecting the organization in a pro-Kremlin direction.

And finally, since all stories these days seem to circle back to Rudy Giuliani, a 2020 story by Simona Weinglass called Inside Anatevka, the curious Chabad hamlet in Ukraine where Giuliani is ‘mayor’ described how one of the buildings in Anatevka was funded by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress where Mirilashvili is president. A May 2019 release announced that the new community center “Beit Shmuel” was opened in Anatevka funded by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.

That same month, Weinglass reported, “Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told The New York Times that he planned to travel to Ukraine in the coming days to deliver a paid speech to a Jewish group on Middle East policy.” The trip was cancelled, but the group Giuliani planned to meet with was American Friends of Anatevka. Instead Giuliani went to Paris and met Kyiv Chabad rabbi Moshe Azman who named Giuliani the honorary Mayor of Anatevka.

Giuliani’s close associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were both deeply involved with Anatevka. Fruman and Azman set up American Friends of Anatevka, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in October 2017 and Parnas was reportedly a board member. During the May 2019 trip when Giuliani received a key as honorary mayor of Anatevka, he also met another interesting character. Giuliani along with Parnas and Fruman met with Dmitry Torner, an aspiring Ukrainian politician and employee of Dmitry Firtash. Shortly after the meeting Fruman and Parnas met directly with Dmitry Firtash in Vienna.

There is no reported direct connection between Giuliani, Parnas or Fruman with Mirilashvili. However, Mirilashvili’s business venture Watergen, and his philanthropic activity with the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, overlap in many curious ways with many people that have been part of Trump’s inner circle.

A 2019 story by Polina Hussein noted that the “stories of the three infamous figures — Mirilshvili, Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin — are rather strangely intertwined since the early 1990s, taking place in Russia, the United States and Israel.”

There has been extensive reporting about how Putin and Prigozhin were involved in interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Given the early background of Mirilashvili with Prigozhin and his close associates Igor Gorbenko & Boris Spektor — and Mirilashvili’s recent business and charitable activities that link to close Trump associates — more coverage of Mirilashvili is needed as well.