14 Oct 2022

Russian oligarch targets Nanaia Mahuta for racist, homophobic attack

9:21 pm on 14 October 2022

By Katie Ham of Stuff

Nanaia Mahuta

The criticism appears to be in response to Nanaia Mahuta announcing new sanctions on dozens of Russians this week. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

A Russian oligarch known for his close ties to Vladimir Putin has launched a racist and homophobic attack on New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta.

In a statement posted on Russian social media platform VK, Yevgeny Prigozhin called Mahuta a "petuh" - a word which literally translates as "cock" and is used in Russia as a derogatory term for gay men - and said her moko kauae makes her look like a "criminal".

These comments were a response to Mahuta's announcement on Tuesday that a further 51 oligarchs and 24 Kremlin-backed officials in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine were going to be sanctioned as part of Aotearoa's condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Prigozhin's children are among those affected by the most recent wave of sanctions.

Translated into English, Prigozhin's full statement - in which he appears to have mistaken Mahuta for a man - said: "I didn't understand at first when I saw a man with a tattoo on his lip. I was afraid that it was the criminals who imposed sanctions, and then realised that such a tattoo cannot be normal. Only cocks. Thank goodness you reassured me this one's just from New Zealand."

As well as featuring on the FBI's "most wanted" list for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to defraud the United States, Prigozhin has also come to be known as "Putin's chef" because of his close relationship with the Russian president.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 20, 2010 Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin his school lunch factory outside Saint Petersburg. - Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on September 26, 2022 he had founded the Wagner mercenary group and confirmed its deployment to countries in Latin America and Africa. (Photo by Alexey DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / AFP)

Yevgeny Prigozhin, right, with Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg in September 2010. Photo: AFP

A spokesperson for Mahuta said she had not been aware of Prigozhin's comments before being approached by Stuff.

Since Mahuta is currently away on an official visit to the Cook Islands she was unable to provide any more comment at this time, the spokesperson said.

Speaking on behalf of Waikato-Tainui iwi - of which Mahuta is a member - Jason Ake called Prigozhin's comments "petty vitriol".

"These comments are a misguided reflection of [Prigozhin's] sense of cultural superiority and the entire world can see how that attitude is playing out on the international stage," Ake said.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon expressed a "total condemnation" of Prigozhin's comments.

"Such discriminatory ugliness directed towards the Minister of Foreign Affairs - or anyone in New Zealand - is unacceptable.

"I'm sure the New Zealand public will find these ugly comments as abhorrent as I do," he said.

The Russian Embassy in New Zealand said it had no knowledge of Prigozhin being an oligarch or close friend of Putin's, adding that they "don't give any comments on private statements".

On Wednesday, the Russian Embassy in New Zealand's official Twitter account posted a tweet mocking New Zealand's banning of luxury goods imported by Russia, such as vodka and caviar.

Last week, it also posted tweet labelling members of the Ukrainian community "Nazis" and "Russophobic".

This story was first published on Stuff.

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