Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Ex-workers at 'troll factory' trust US indictment

Published:Tuesday | February 20, 2018 | 12:10 AM
In this Tuesday, Augugust 9, 2016 file photo, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin gestures at the Konstantin palace outside St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP)


While Russian officials scoff at a US indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, several people who worked at the same St Petersburg 'troll factory' say they think the criminal charges are well-founded.

Marat Mindiyarov, a former commenter at the innocuously named Internet Research Agency, says the organisation's Facebook department hired people with excellent English skills to sway US public opinion through an elaborate social media campaign.

His own experience at the agency makes him trust the US indictment, Mindiyarov told The Associated Press. "I believe that that's how it was and that it was them," he said.

The federal indictment issued Friday names a businessman linked to President Vladimir Putin and a dozen other Russians. It alleges that Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy restaurateur dubbed 'Putin's chef', paid for the Internet operation that created fictitious social media accounts and used them to spread tendentious messages.

The aim of the factory's work was either to influence voters or to undermine their faith in the US political system, the 37-page indictment states.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that while the indictment focuses on "Russian nationals," it gives "no indication that the Russian government was involved in this in any way." Peskov reasserted that Moscow did not interfere in the US election.

Mindiyarov, failed the language exam needed to get a job on the Internet Research Agency's Facebook desk, where the pay was double that of the domestic side of the factory. The sleek operation produced content that looked as if it were written by native English speakers, he said.