This week, an act was introduced in the U.S. Congress to designate the Russian-based PMC Wagner Group as a terrorist organization. Earlier, Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, met with Jason McCue, head of the London-based law firm McCue Jury & Partners, which is bringing legal action against the Wagner Group. The lawsuit will be filed on behalf of Ukrainian nationals who suffered from Russian terror. It claims that Prigozhin, his PMC, and Putin’s war machine have conspired to terrorize the people of Ukraine and are using unlawful means to this end.
spoke with Jason McCue about the aims of the legal action, the ways to ensure the recognition of the Wagner PMC as a terrorist group, and the compensations the Ukrainians who suffered from Russian aggression will possibly be able to obtain.
This is the first time in history that a private military company has been sued for using terrorism and a conspiracy with a pariah state that funds it to wage an unlawful war.
The primary aim of the lawsuit against the Wagner PMC
Wagner members are the spearhead of Russia’s war machine. The group heads Russian propaganda and commits various war crimes, crimes against humanity, and terror attacks against the people of Ukraine.
I consider it symbolic that our struggle for justice for the Ukrainian people begins with bringing the Wagner PMC to trial.
It’s important that, as the Wagner Group commits war crimes on Ukrainian territory, the Ukrainians are fighting it off not only on the battlefield but in court.
What is our goal? First, we believe that organizations such as the Wagner Group are terrorist. There’s no difference between them and the Islamic State or the IRA, but they haven’t been designated as terrorist organizations yet. We are set to prove in court that they are terrorists.
The designation of an organization as terrorist entails further punishment and restrictions for them, as well as stigmatization, which will prevent them from recruiting people abroad. This is the first goal.
Second, the people of Ukraine need reparations. Of course, you can wait and hope that your government will agree with the international community to turn Russia’s frozen assets into a reparations fund. However, the reality tends to be very far from expectations, as history shows. We are convinced that people who eventually obtain proper compensation are those who bring legal actions around the world to this end.
Third, when you get to prosecuting a group such as Wagner, you begin distracting them, tracing their assets, and bringing the attention of international media to them. I believe that the more we can distract them and block their resources, the more we can help you defend your country.
Today, Wagner can openly recruit people even outside Russia. Will it change if they are designated as terrorists?
It will become much harder for them to recruit because the designation means stigmatization. For example, many soldiers whom the Wagner Group wants to recruit have spent most of their careers in their countries’ armies fighting terrorism. They wouldn’t want to be called terrorists. They also wouldn’t want to be banned from traveling because the very meaning of a mercenary’s job is traveling around the world to earn a living.
This doesn’t only put pressure on an organization but also creates whistleblowers. And once whistleblowers appear in your organization, it collapses.
Recently, you presented your case against Wagner in parliament. Can you give some details about it? And what will be the next step in your campaign?
Our parliament asked me to provide the Foreign Affairs Committee with evidence of the use of private military companies in unlawful wars. Some pariah states are now using PMCs to do their dirty work.
For example, Russia wants some economic resources in Africa, like gold, plutonium, or anything, and they use Wagner to orchestrate a coup there, or vice versa, to help a dictator retain power. In exchange, Russia receives the resources it sought. Hence, Wagner is important for Russia not only on the battlefield.
Today, the British parliament works to create rules and laws that will make it possible to punish groups such as Wagner for their crimes.
I was among those invited to bring evidence, and we thought it a good moment to announce our legal action. We’ve also seen that the parliament is very interested in proving that the Wagner Group are terrorists. And we have evidence to prove it. We have been fighting terrorists for 30 years, and we know our job.
How can Ukrainians join your lawsuit against Wagner?
We have commenced this action with zero resources. We do have allies like the wonderful investigators from Bellingcat and more. Everyone supports us because they know how effective it can be, but we sorely lack resources.
We have started with a very small number of victims and are now suing only Wagner and Prigozhin. If we can raise more money through crowdfunding, we will be able to expand our work.
I can open more cases, different cases against different defendants, and cases involving different categories of victims. This first case is only the beginning.
Any Ukrainian who has evacuated and has a visa in the United Kingdom can join the claim. These are 150,000 Ukrainians and nearly $5 billion in damages.
Then, we will be able to prosecute Prigozhin and his assets around the world. But we need resources. I have taken the risk with Wagner and Prigozhin because I can handle them. However, I have another 20 or 30 potential defendants I want to sue, other Russian oligarchs.
If I begin fighting them, there will be more fronts. I need resources and crowdfunding to be more effective. We have one more case we can open in the U.K. We also have one more case we can open in the U.S., but we need resources.
We have brought this lawsuit at once because if we show how serious and effective we are with our small pilot initiative, people will support us and see the benefits.
Can you trace Wagner’s assets in other countries?
Yes, we know them quite well. I have been watching their crimes in Africa for a long time. We’ve been tracing their money and resources, and therefore we want to freeze their assets. We will do it very quickly, as soon as we have the resources for it.
Resources, funds, and property of the Wagner PMC around the world — how many continents can you trace?
Three. Or actually, four, excuse me. I haven’t looked up yet whether they have assets in Antarctica, but I’m looking to do it. I believe that everyone must be protected from Wagner and the like, including the penguins.
Please tell us more about your experience fighting with terrorist organizations.
I have spent 30 years fighting terrorists and I handled cases of thousands and thousands of victims.
We fought against the IRA, HAMAS, Al Qaeda, and pariah states like Libya under Gaddafi or Iran. We are also representing the interests of Rohingya in a genocide lawsuit, and we are suing Facebook for $200 billion. Because they allowed the regime and extremists to use their platform for four years.
Is your way to obtain compensation faster than through tribunals?
If it’s successful, it’s much faster than waiting for a tribunal to pass a verdict, since the consideration may take five to ten years.
How did the Wagner PMC react to the start of your campaign, and could you serve a letter before action on Prigozhin?
Yes, we served the letter on him, although I cannot disclose how we did it. He made a statement for the press and gave interviews with some Russian media. I was enraged when I read it because I saw a monster ridiculing us.
Prigozhin said, "You have no resources to set on me. I’m a big man, and nobody cares about the Ukrainians, so you won’t raise the money."
He even said, "I will pay you myself to fight me because it makes me a big man, war crimes make me powerful." And then, the interviewer asked him: "What about recruiting convicts? There’s a serial killer in your ranks. He slaughtered women." And Prigozhin answered, quote: "Women are for fucking, not for dismemberment."
So I wrote a letter to the journalist and said: publish it if you want in full or nothing at all, and I actually said that he was a monster. We don’t need your blood money. They didn’t publish my response. I lost my temper because I’m human too, and if I have someone who reacts like this I cannot stand it.
Prigozhin is truly evil, there’s nothing good in him. That’s why it’s so important to show the world the atrocities this person committed, as well as to punish those who communicate with him and profit from him.