Russians Indicted By Robert Mueller Connected To Murder Of Journalists In Africa

A tribute in Moscow to the three Russian journalists murdered in the Central African Republican.Screengrab/AP Archive/YouTube

An independent investigation alleges that Evgeny Prigohzin and Mikhail Burchik were involved in the triple murder.

Two of the thirteen Russians indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller last year for their roles in Russian interference in the 2016 election are alleged to have been involved with a plan to murder three Russian journalists in Africa last year.

TIME reported on Thursday that an investigation into the killings by exiled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was the employer of the journalists, implicated several Russians tied to Evgeny Prigozhin — a Kremlin-linked oligarch who reportedly runs the mercenary company Wagner Group.

Making his case in London this week, Khodorkovsky alleged the Russians conspired to lure the journalists into an ambush in the Central African Republic, where they were investigating Russian mercenary activities in the region.

All three were shot and killed in what the Kremlin claims was a random robbery.

The investigation into the journalists’ murder apparently relied on data from cell phone towers in Africa and what appears to be private communications between several of the Russians involved. When asked how they had obtained this data, the team of investigators said they had paid for it, but refused to disclose where or how they purchased it.

TIME was not able to verify the investigators’ findings independently on Thursday. Prigozhin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Russian Foreign Ministry has said the death of the three journalists was the result of a robbery gone wrong. Contacted on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the ministry declined to comment on Khodorkovsky’s allegations in detail, saying only that Russian law enforcement agencies are still working on the case of the murdered journalists. “The investigation is ongoing,” she said.

Khodorkovsky disagrees: “These facts don’t leave any room for the theory that this was a simple robbery,” he told TIME in an interview last month.

Mikhail Burchik, an associate of Prigozhin who was also indicted by Mueller, is alleged by Khodorkovsky to have participated in a coverup of the plot to have the journalists killed.

According to [the investigation’s] findings, Burchik was involved in an apparent cover-up of the triple murder, while Prigozhin was accused of paying the people who allegedly orchestrated it. Burchik could not be reached for comment on these allegations.

Read the full report here.