US sanctions companies linked to businessman close to Putin

FILE - In this July 4, 2017 file photo, Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin is shown prior to a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. The Justice Department is moving to drop charges against some Russian companies that were accused of funding a social media campaign to sway American public opinion during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool Photo via AP, File) (Sergei Ilnitsky)

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on companies connected to a Russian businessman who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and suspected of helping finance the covert social media campaign aimed at American voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The actions announced Wednesday take aim at front companies that officials say Yevgeny Prigozhin has relied on to process millions of dollars and to evade sanctions in Sudan, where the Trump administration says Russia has been involved in paramilitary operations and supporting authoritarian regimes.

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“Today’s actions will further limit attempts by Prigozhin and his backers to foment disorder or undermine democratic reforms in Sudan,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement announcing the sanctions by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Prigozhin, whose close relationship to Putin has earned him the nickname of “Putin's Chef," attracted attention in 2018 after he and Russian companies he controlled were indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. He was accused of financing an effort to use social media posts to spread disinformation and to divide American public opinion on hot-button social issues ahead of the election.

The Justice Department in March dropped charges against two of those companies, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering, citing concerns that the entities would use the case to send sensitive law enforcement tools back to Russia while facing no meaningful punishment even if convicted.

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