Hand grenade fragments were found in the bodies of victims of a plane crash that killed former Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.
Mr Prigozhin was reportedly among 10 people killed in a plane crash north of Moscow on 23 August, two months to the day after he led a failed mutiny against top Russian officials.
The aborted rebellion, during which he demanded the ousting of the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, was the biggest challenge to President Putin’s rule since he rose to power in 1999.
But Mr Putin appeared to dismiss Western assessments the plane had been shot down, claiming there was “no external impact” and this “is already an established fact”.
“Fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of those killed in the crash,” he told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi.
He did not give any details around how a grenade could explode in the plane – but he said investigators should have tested the bodies for alcohol and drugs, given cocaine has been found at Wagner offices before.
“In my opinion, such an examination should have been carried out but it was not,” he added.
Mr Putin said the FSB security service had found 10 billion roubles (£82.3m) in cash and 5kg of cocaine in searches of Wagner’s offices in St Petersburg.
The investigators have not publicly commented on the case, but Russia said it confirmed Mr Prigozhin’s death in the crash following genetic tests – without revealing the cause.
He was buried privately in a “farewell ceremony” in a St Petersburg cemetery in August, according to his press team.
What happened to the plane?
The private Embraer Legacy aircraft was travelling from Moscow to St Petersburg when it crashed, with Russia reporting there were no survivors.
Russian state-owned TASS news agency said seven passengers and three crew were on board the Embraer aircraft and were all killed.
A Telegram channel affiliated with the Wagner Group said Mr Prigozhin was killed in the plane crash. It called him a hero and a patriot who had died at the hands of unidentified people described as “traitors to Russia”.
The plane came down near the village of Kuzhenkino Tver.
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The private plane thought to have been carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin was travelling away from Moscow when it crashed.
Western analysts and commentators have largely suggested President Putin could have ordered the killing of Mr Prigozhin, though no evidence has been presented.
Mr Putin – who Mr Prigozhin was once a close confidant of – described him as a “traitor” after the failed mutiny.
He had become a vocal critic of Russia’s defence ministry and top generals in their handling of the invasion of Ukraine, eventually leading a revolt with a column apparently headed for Moscow.
The rebellion ended when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stepped in to broker a deal, with Mr Prigozhin agreeing to relocate to Belarus.
What’s the future for Wagner?
Before his death, Mr Prigozhin had cast Wagner as the world’s most battle-hardened fighting force.
But the group’s fate has been unclear since his death, with Mr Putin ordering its fighters to sign contracts with the defence ministry.
Mr Putin, when asked about the future of so-called private military companies in the country, said there is no consensus on whether these types of groups are needed.
“But today I can say for sure that several thousand fighters of this company have already signed contracts with the armed forces,” he added.
“And if they want to, then they will take part in the fighting. They do this on the basis of signed individual contracts, which was not the case before.”
He said it is a “complicated process” and remained ambiguous about the future of such mercenary groups.
Written by: Newsroom