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FACT CHECK: Contrary to claims, Russian mercenary Prigozhin is dead


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FACT CHECK: Contrary to claims, Russian mercenary Prigozhin is dead
Prigozhin, chief of the Wagner mercenary group, was among the 10 people killed in a plane crash on August 23

Claim: Russia’s most powerful mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin is still alive, having survived a plane crash last August 23.

Rating: FALSE

Why we fact-checked this: In a video posted on September 1, YouTube channel Sangkay Janjan TV floated a theory that the chief of the Wagner private military company is still alive. As of writing, it has gained 6,780 views and 479 likes.

The video’s title reads: “BUHAY PA PALA ANG MORTAL NA KAAWAY NI PUTIN?!” (Is Putin’s mortal enemy still alive?!)

Its thumbnail bore the text: “Mortal na kaaway ni Putin, buhay pa pala?” (Putin’s mortal enemy is still alive?)

The bottom line: Prigozhin, who had posed a political threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin, died in a plane crash in the Tver region on August 23. He was buried in a cemetery on the outskirts of St. Petersburg on August 29.

Killed in the crash: Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transport said Prigozhin was among the 10 passengers killed in the crash, according to Russian news agency Tass.

His death has sparked conspiracy theories, especially after a video surfaced showing Prigozhin seated in the back of a vehicle, portions of which were shown in Sangkay Janjan TV’s video. 

The narrator floated the possibility that the Wagner chief might still be alive, highlighting the following quotes where Prigozhin said: “For those who are discussing whether I’m alive or not, how I’m doing – right now it’s the weekend, second half of August 2023, I’m in Africa. So for people who like to discuss wiping me out, or my private life, how much I earn, or whatever else – everything’s okay.” 

The video was published by Grey Zone, a Telegram channel linked to Wagner. However, news outlets such as CNN have been unable to verify the location or date of the video.

Theories abound: While the cause of the plane crash is still unknown, many theories have emerged, particularly suggesting that Putin was behind the crash. Speaking on Prigozhin’s death, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We all know that the Kremlin has a long history of killing opponents.”

Once referred to as Putin’s “chef” and a pro-Kremlin oligarch, Prigozhin became the Russian leader’s biggest threat after staging an unsuccessful rebellion in June against Russia’s military leadership.

Putin offered his condolences to Prigozhin’s family, describing him as a “talented man” who “made serious mistakes in life.”

On August 30, the Kremlin said the plane carrying Prigozhin may have been downed on purpose, but denied accusations it killed Prigozhin to punish him for the mutiny. Andrei Santos/Rappler.com

Andrei Santos is a graduate of Rappler’s fact-checking mentorship program. This fact check was reviewed by a member of Rappler’s research team and a senior editor. Learn more about Rappler’s fact-checking mentorship program here.

Keep us aware of suspicious Facebook pages, groups, accounts, websites, articles, or photos in your network by contacting us at factcheck@rappler.com. Let us battle disinformation one Fact Check at a time.

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