The St Petersburg palace of Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has been raided by Russian security services.
The FSB says it found guns, ammunition, gold bars, a stuffed alligator and a cupboard full of wigs at the opulent residence the mercenary leader was forced to abandon after his aborted coup attempt last month.
The pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia published images and video of the raid yesterday, which also turned up apparently fake passports and a framed photo allegedly showing the severed heads of Prigozhin’s enemies.
Details of the raid emerged as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the Wagner chief was not in Belarus.
Mr Lukasheno – who brokered a deal which saw Prigozhin, who used to be known as “Putin’s chef”, call-off the rebellion and leave Russia for Belarus – said on 27 June that the exiled leader had arrived in his country.
However, he told journalists at a news conference on Thursday that Prigozhin is still in Russia and “may” be in St Petersburg or Moscow – while his troops remain in their camps.
There has been much speculation in recent weeks regarding Prigozhin’s whereabouts, with the mercenary leader not being seen in public since the mutiny.
Pictures of his lavish home also showed a grand piano at the base of a spiral marble staircase, as well as a spa and sauna area, and private indoor swimming pool.
An oversized sledgehammer inscribed with the words “for use in important negotiations” was also displayed in what appears to be the billiards room.
There also appeared to be a private prayer room, decorated with multiple religious icons from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Huge amounts of cash in various currencies were discovered at the residence, the FSB said, as was a military uniform replete with around two dozen medals.
Prigozhin was thought to have been in Belarus since 24 June after he led the failed mutiny against the Kremlin which saw his Wagner mercenaries march on Moscow.
Large numbers of Wagner fighters were said to have also been absorbed into the Russian military as part of the agreement overseen by Mr Lukashenko to end the stand-off.
Prigozhin released a statement in the aftermath detailing why he began his “march for justice”.
“We started our march because of an injustice,” he said.
Explaining why the advance was abandoned, Prigozhin said he did not want to shed Russian blood – and insisted that he had no intention of overthrowing the government.
He added: “We have shown the level of organisation that an army must meet.”
Describing the moment he decided to order his fighters to halt their advance on Moscow, Prigozhin said: “We felt that the demonstration of what we were going to do was enough.
“And our decision to turn back was influenced by two most important factors.
“The first factor was that we did not want to shed Russian blood,” Prigozhin continued.
“The second factor was that we were going for a demonstration of our protest, not to overthrow the government in the country.”
Meanwhile, an ex-CIA director has said the uprising created a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity for the US to recruit spies in Russia.
Speaking at a lecture to the Ditchley Foundation – a charity focused on British-American relations – Mr Burns said dissatisfaction with the war was creating a rare opportunity to recruit spies, which the CIA was capitalising on.