"Putin's chef" personally toured Russia's tough prisons to recruit 1,000 convicts to his bloodthirsty Wagner mercenary group to help with the war in Ukraine, claims a Russian opposition website.
Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin gained the strange nickname after he was pictured serving Vladimir Putin dinner in a chef's uniform, according to Independent.ie.
The Verstka news website, together with convict family support charity Russia Sitting, claims he offered lags from 17 prisons a salary and a presidential pardon if they agreed to fight in Ukraine.
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“Three prisoners told human rights activists that businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin was allegedly coming to the colony,” Verstka reported.
Inmates told Russia Sitting activists that Wagner group recruiters would focus on prisoners' physical conditions and keenness to “defend the Motherland”.
It was also claimed that they would first look at "those convicted for murder and robbery", and that prisoners behind bars on drug or sexual offences "are normally not selected".
Russia Sitting has also warned inmates and their families to think twice about using the Ukraine invasion to gain their freedom, claiming that promises made by Russian mercenary groups such as Wagner, Shield, Slavic Corps, Patriot and Redut are legally impossible to enforce.
Wagner reportedly offers 200,000 roubles (£2,675) per month as well as a “coffin payment” to the family of the mercenary if he is killed.
“We can advise relatives, if possible, to convey the risks to their loved ones and try to dissuade them from accepting the offers of mercenary recruiters,” said Russian Sitting.
A spokesman for Prigozhin was quoted as claiming he wasn't involved in the recruitment drive.
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Prigozhin was previously sanctioned by the US for alleged involvement in a bid to sway the result of the 2016 presidential election and other political contests.
He runs the Wagner group with Dmitry Utkin, who was accused of being "responsible for serious human rights abuses… which include torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings" by the Council of the European Union last year.
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