Several people who worked at the St. Petersburg “troll factory” mention in a U.S. indictment against Russian citizens and companies say they think the criminal charges are well-founded, The Associated Press reports.
A former employee at the innocuously named Internet Research Agency named Marat Mindiyarov said the organization’s Facebook department hired people proficient in English to sway U.S. public opinion through an elaborate social media campaign.
Mindiyarov told AP his own experience at the agency makes him trust the U.S. indictment. “I believe that that’s how it was and that it was them,” he said.
Mindiyarov said he failed the language exam needed to get a job on the Internet Research Agency’s Facebook desk, where the pay was double than the domestic side of the factory. The sleek operation produced content that looked as if it were written by native English speakers, he said.
The federal indictment issued Friday names Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman linked to President Vladimir Putin and a dozen other Russians. It alleges that the wealthy restaurant chain owner 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 U.S. political system, the 37-page indictment states.
The Kremlin said on Monday the charges contained zero proof of Russian state involvement.
“There are no indications that the Russian state could have been involved in this and nor can there be any. Russia did not meddle, does not have the habit of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, and is not doing so now,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
At the time, about 400 people occupied four floors of an office building and worked 12-hour shifts, Mindyiarov said. Most of the operation focused on the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine and Western sanctions against Russia, not political races in the West, he added.