She gambled on Russians-Trump claim. She is losing.
published : 1 Sep 2018 at 12:52
writer: New York Times
PATTAYA: Caught in a Thai police raid on her group’s seduction seminar, a Belarusian escort grabbed the world’s attention in February when she claimed to have audio recordings that might show a link between Russian officials and the election of President Donald Trump, betting that it could turn into a get-out-of-jail free card.
Six months later, her gamble appears to have badly backfired.
What began as a minor immigration charge has turned into a serious criminal case carrying the potential of 10 years of prison time in Thailand. And in a new interview with The New York Times, the escort, Anastasia Vashukevich, became coy about the content of her recordings -- and said she now has no plan to make them public.
Ms Vashukevich, who goes by the name Nastya Rybka online, remains behind bars in Chon Buri along with the Belarusian man she calls her seduction coach, Alexander Kirillov, and six of their Russian associates.
This week, a judge set their trial for mid-January, after they all pleaded not guilty to charges of indecency, conspiracy and belonging to a secret society -- an escalation of charges that they claim they are facing because of the intervention of a foreign power they angered.
“They are afraid that I have something,” Ms Vashukevich said in the interview.
The events in Thailand are part of a continuing drama involving a powerful Russian tycoon, a seduction plot, and questions about the Kremlin’s interference in the US election.
Now, Ms Vashukevich says she sent copies of her recordings to the tycoon, Oleg Deripaska, with whom she says she had an affair and whose private conversations she recorded. Her hope is that he will rescue her from prison.
“Now I just want to wait for Oleg’s answer,” she said. “I just want to be friends.”
Mr Deripaska has emerged as a pivotal figure in US relations with Russia.
One of Russia’s wealthiest men, he is close to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and had business ties to Mr Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort.
In April, the United States imposed sanctions on Deripaska and six other Russian oligarchs as punishment for interference in the 2016 election and other Russian aggressions.
Manafort, who was convicted Aug 21 of financial fraud, owed millions to Mr Deripaska from a previous business venture. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he offered to provide Mr Deripaska with private briefings on Mr Trump’s campaign.
Through a spokesman, Mr Deripaska has denied any wrongdoing.
In the summer of 2016, Ms Vashukevich set herself a goal of seducing a billionaire. Under Mr Kirillov’s guidance, she signed up with an escort agency and was one of several models sent to spend time on the yacht of a wealthy businessman off the coast of Norway. The owner of the yacht turned out to be Mr Deripaska.
Ms Vashukevich says she had an affair with him that began on the yacht and continued after they returned to Russia.
Also on the yacht as the oligarch’s guest was an influential Kremlin official and close associate of Mr utin, then the deputy prime minister, Sergei Prikhodko.
In keeping with Mr Kirillov’s training, she took pictures and recorded conversations while on the yacht. She posted photos of the two men and a recording of them talking about relations between the United States and Russia.
Ms Vashukevich’s posts might have received little attention but for a video investigation posted on YouTube in February by the Russian opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, which relied heavily on videos and photographs from Ms Vashukevich.
The revelation of the foreign yacht trip prompted speculation that it was cover for a rendezvous between representatives of the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Mr Navalny charged that Mr Deripaska had delivered campaign reports from Manafort to the Kremlin.
Less than three weeks after Mr Navalny released his video, Ms Vashukevich, Mr Kirillov and eight others were arrested in a hotel conference room in Pattaya, where Mr Kirillov was leading a weeklong seminar on the art of seduction. Most of the attendees at the Russian-language sessions were male tourists from Russia.
Mr Kirillov has said that he believes he and Ms Vashukevich were targeted by a covert operation.
Police told The Times that a “foreign spy” was inside the conference room during the seminar and that the spy messaged waiting officers when it was time to raid the meeting.
Mr Kirillov’s group was initially accused of relatively minor immigration infractions, including working without a permit. As Ms Vashukevich was being transported in a police truck, she posted a video of herself on Instagram saying she had information about Russian interference in the election.
Soon after, she told The Times that she had more than 16 hours of audio recordings of her encounters with Mr Deripaska and his associates, including conversations with three visitors who she believed were Americans.
The immigration charges were soon resolved and two of the 10 were deported to Russia.
But before Ms Vashukevich and the others could be deported, police filed the charges of conspiracy, belonging to a secret society and indecency. They were all denied bail.
“When we start to talk about the elections, we go to prison for half a year,” Mr Kirillov said in the recent interview. “If we have nothing, why do they detain us? Even if we have nothing, they are scared we have something.”
During a court hearing last month, it became clear that the prosecution has built a larger case against them.
Prosecutors said police obtained videos of Mr Kirillov and several other defendants participating in an orgy that involved about 30 people in Pattaya, a city known for its adult entertainment. The prosecution contends that the seduction seminar was set up to provide attendees with sex and that eight women were paid to take part in the orgy.
A central witness against them will be an American, Pavlo Yunko, who initially tried to help free them from jail but later handed over their electronic devices to police and agreed to cooperate, the prosecution said.
Mr Kirillov denied that the purpose of the seminar was to provide sex for anyone. Better known as Alex Lesley, Mr Kirillov has written several books on seduction and gained popularity in Russia for his advocacy of sexual freedom.
“I am the leader of the free love community in Russia,” he explained to the court as he argued that the seminar and the orgy at a private residence were not connected.
In pleading not guilty, Ms Vashukevich tearfully told the court that she had no teaching role at the seminar and did not take part in the orgy.
“What did I do that was wrong?” she asked plaintively. “I wasn’t there.”