Internationally sanctioned Wagner PMC founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is accused of human rights violations around the world, was able to pass a money laundering check by a British law firm by submitting a utility bill in the name of his 81-year-old mother. This is reported by The Financial Times, citing leaked emails.
According to the FT, Prigozhin hired the London law firm Discreet Law in 2021 to sue British journalist Eliot Higgins for his statement about Prigozhin's connection with the Wagner PMC (in 2023, Prigozhin admitted that he was the founder of the PMC and promised to give victory in court to all those with whom he had previously sued because of "conspiratorial necessity") .
Discreet Law asked for Prigozhin's identity documents before taking him on as a client. In response to a request, Prigozhin’s Russian lawyers sent the firm a copy of his passport and a gas bill issued in the name of his 81-year-old mother with the clarification: “The bill was issued in the name of the plaintiff’s mother (Violetta Prigozhina), who actually lives at the client’s address and pays the bills.” . In response, a Discreet Law lawyer wrote: "We are satisfied with the documents."
Discreet Law also successfully applied for permission to act on Prigozhin's behalf with the UK Treasury in 2021 as he was under sanctions.
Violetta Prigozhina (now 83) came under EU sanctions last year for links to her son's mercenary activities. Yevgeny Prigozhin himself has been under US sanctions since 2016, since 2020 under EU and UK sanctions, and since 2022 under Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.
Margaret Hodge, MP for the Labor Party, commenting on the case, said that the situation demonstrated the need for urgent reform in the UK:
“It's ridiculous that a Russian military leader escaped all suspicion of money laundering by simply taking advantage of his elderly mother's gas bills. It's outrageous that a law firm would take on such a risky client. Our bankers, accountants and lawyers are required to conduct due diligence on their clients.”
Discreet Law founder Roger Gerson declined to answer questions about whether the firm took other steps to vet Prigozhin before taking him on as a client, or why it accepted his mother's gas bill in its anti-money laundering checks.
He said that Discreet Law "cannot comment on confidential communications with its former clients":
"It is Discreet Law's position that, while receiving instructions and exercising due diligence, they have always fully complied with their legal and professional obligations."
A few days ago, the FT wrote that Prigozhin, in the four years preceding the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, received $ 250 million in profits from the extraction of natural resources: oil, gas, diamonds and gold in Africa and the Middle East.