A number of images purporting to be Yevgeny Prigozhin in fake beards were leaked on Telegram (Picture: e2w)
Photos appearing to show the Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin sporting a variety of wigs and beards could be fake, according to an expert.
On Wednesday, a pro-Kremlin newspaper published photos and video of officers searching Prigozhin’s St Petersburg mansion, left empty after the private military group’s leader was exiled to Belarus after a failed coup – although he is reported to have since returned to Russia.
Images include a private pool, a stuffed alligator, weapons, a photo allegedly showing the severed heads of his enemies and a cupboard full of wigs.
The paper, Izvestia, also released six images purportedly showing Prigozhin in disguise wearing a wig, beard, or both, said to have been leaked to ‘state-backed Telegram channels’.
However, an image processing expert has said he believes the profile shot photos, mostly selfies, could have been faked.
‘I’m sceptical of the photos because the details are a bit sloppy, particularly the eyes, and they’re very low resolution,’ said Dr Deepayan Bhowmik, an associate professor at Newcastle University who gained his PhD in image processing.
A variety of wigs were also reported to have been found inside the Wagner Group leader’s house (Picture: e2w)
‘When anyone does digital editing [to create a fake], they will want to compress it down a number of times, to lower the quality and make sure any artefacts [telltale signs of editing] that could have been quite sharp in the actual editing are blurred away. That is one of the suspicions here.’
While the beards are still clearly meant to look fake, Dr Bhowmik suggests they may have been simply lifted from another image – even possibly a catalogue picture from online – and pasted on to the original photos of Prigozhin.
‘If you had someone doing very sophisticated photo editing using deepfake technology, such as face swapping, that is possible, but these images appear much more low-tech.
‘They could have simply picked up the beard from a library image and placed it on the face itself – and the lines of these beards across the face look slightly suspicious, again indicating it might have been edited.’
In addition, Dr Bhowmik notes in one image, where Prigozhin is wearing a military beret with an eagle insignia, his eyes appear slightly wider than in other images, also suggesting it may have been edited.
Dr Deepayan Bhowmik, an expert in digital imaging, highlights this image in particular as showing signs of having been edited (Picture: e2w)
Of the photos taken in the St Petersburg mansion, Dr Bhowmik raised issues around the photo of an oversized sledgehammer with the words ‘For use in important negotiations’ apparently inscribed on it.
‘Again, this is a low resolution image,’ he said. ‘It’s slightly difficult to determine because of the lighting situation, and it being an indoor image and the slight reflection coming in from the window, but what is missing is the shadow, it’s not entirely there. The reflection on the floor is there, but that is easily achievable with any photo editing software.
Dr Bhowmik is also sceptical of the authenticity of this picture, apparently showing a giant sledgehammer in Prigozhin’s home
‘This kind of image editing is entirely possible for people to try to give the impression of a particular narrative.’
Late on Friday, June 23, Prigozhin staged an apparent insurrection – he called it a ‘march for justice’ – against President Vladimir Putin following an alleged attack on a Wagner camp. The group had been supporting Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine, but the relationship has deteriorated in recent months, culminating in a tense stand-off after Prigozhin seized control of the military HQ in Rostov-on-Don.
Despite declaring he was not threatening Putin’s leadership, the situation threw the president’s leadership into sharp focus. However, by Saturday night his close ally Alexander Lukashenko, leader of Belarus, brokered a deal. Prigozhin was soon seen leaving Rostov bound for Belarus with a promise of no criminal charges.