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Repeated flights to Syria and Africa Russian journalists track the private jet supposedly used by ‘Putin's chef’

A private jet with the tail number M-VITO at Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg on May 2, 2018
A private jet with the tail number M-VITO at Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg on May 2, 2018
Anna Zvereva / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2016, Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation identified a private jet likely used by catering mogul Evgeny Prigozhin and his family: a Raytheon Hawker 800XP with the tail number M-VITO, captured in a photograph shared on Instagram by Prigozhin’s daughter, Polina. The plane belongs to an offshore company registered in Seychelles whose owners are unknown, and Prigozhin’s family regularly appears in photos taken in the cabin of a similar-looking jet. Based on Navalny’s research, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta tracked M-VITO’s flights for the past couple of years for a new special report.

The M-VITO plane travels most often between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The aircraft’s second favorite destination is Beirut (48 times in two years). Novaya Gazeta speculates that this was merely the usual layover for trips that ended in Syria or Africa. The jet was also tracked over Syria (21 times) and Egypt (27 times), and repeatedly near or over Libya. According to Kenya’s news media, the plane has also visited Sudan and Chad.

Novaya Gazeta was unable to verify whether Prigozhin was aboard any of these flights. A source with access to registration records was able to confirm that the billionaire was present on just a single flight to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, while accompanied by two supposed mercenaries working for the “Wagner” private military company. The newspaper links Prigozhin’s possible trips to Africa with his reported business interests in the region (both mercenary work and mining operations).

Before publishing its article, Novaya Gazeta sent questions to the press office for Prigozhin’s company, Concord Catering. As it has in other cases, the company posted its responses on its Vkontakte page, stating that Prigozhin doesn’t own or use a plane with the tail number “M-VITO.” His spokespeople also deny the trip to Sudan, and refused to respond to questions about business interests in Africa.