Escort Says Audio Recordings Show Russian Meddling in U.S. Election
By RICHARD C. PADDOCK MARCH 5, 2018
BANGKOK — A Belarusian escort with close ties to a powerful Russian oligarch said from behind bars in Bangkok on Monday that she had more than 16 hours of audio recordings that could help shed light on Russian meddling in United States elections.
The escort, Anastasia Vashukevich, said she would hand over the recordings if the United States granted her asylum. She faces criminal charges and deportation to Belarus after coming under suspicion of working in Thailand without a visa at a sex-training seminar in the city of Pattaya.
Ms. Vashukevich, who described herself as close to the Russian aluminum tycoon Oleg V. Deripaska, said that audio recordings she made in August 2016 included discussions he had about the United States presidential election with people she declined to identify.
Mr. Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, also has business ties to Paul J. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman. Mr. Manafort is under investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel looking into the campaign’s connections to Russia.
“If America gives me protection, I will tell everything I know,” Ms. Vashukevich said on Monday. “I am afraid to go back to Russia. Some strange things can happen.”
Her assertion could be easy to disregard were it not for a 25-minute video investigation posted last month on YouTube by the Russian opposition figure Aleksei A. Navalny, which relies heavily on videos and photographs from Ms. Vashukevich.
She and nine people from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus were arrested late last month in Pattaya, a city about 70 miles south of Bangkok known for its adult entertainment scene. Most of those arrested, including Ms. Vashukevich, 21, who also goes by the name Nastya Rybka, are accused of working without a permit. Some are also accused of not having a valid Thai visa.
Ms. Vashukevich and Alexander Kirillov, the organizer of the sex seminar, spoke to three reporters while standing behind bars and a mesh screen during visiting hours at the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok. Immigration officials stopped the interviews midway and told the reporters to leave the facility.
In a letter addressed to the American consul, Mr. Kirillov requested political asylum for all those arrested in connection with the sex workshop. Credit via Paulo Yunko
Ms. Vashukevich, wearing a bright green T-shirt with the word “detainee” in Thai, is a long way from the days she spent sailing on a yacht with Mr. Deripaska and his friends, including Sergei E. Prikhodko, a deputy prime minister.
According to her version of events, she was working for a modeling agency when she and several other models were sent to spend time on Mr. Deripaska’s yacht. She later posted photographs and videos on social media showing Mr. Deripaska and Mr. Prikhodko together on the yacht.
Financial records show that companies controlled by Mr. Manafort owed millions of dollars to Mr. Deripaska. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Manafort offered to give Mr. Deripaska private briefings on the campaign.
Mr. Navalny charged in his video that Mr. Deripaska’s yacht trip was an attempt to bribe Mr. Prikhodko, and that Ms. Vashukevich was one of “several” prostitutes aboard the vessel. In the video, the tycoon and Mr. Prikhodko can be heard discussing Russian-American relations. The video also highlights a book Ms. Vashukevich wrote titled “Who Wants to Seduce a Billionaire.”
Russia has tried to block Mr. Navalny’s video, which had nearly 6.4 million views on YouTube as of Monday. A spokesman for Mr. Deripaska has said the allegations of bribery and prostitutes on the yacht were a “hot story that appears far from being the truth.”
In the interview at the immigration center on Monday, Ms. Vashukevich said that she had often recorded conversations between Mr. Deripaska and his associates, and that she had 16 to 18 hours of recordings, including conversations about the United States presidential election.
“They were discussing elections,” she said. “Deripaska had a plan about elections.”
But, she added, “I can’t tell you everything.”
Some of the conversations were with three people who spoke English fluently and who she thought were Americans, she said.
“It is not only about me,” she said. “It concerns a lot of people in America and other countries.”
Ms. Vashukevich and Mr. Kirillov, who also goes by the name Alex Lesley, are prominent on social media and are considered by some to be publicity seekers.
Ms. Vashukevich took part in a small protest in Moscow last year defending Harvey Weinstein after he faced numerous accusations of sexual abuse. Standing mostly naked near the American Embassy, she and four other women held signs with slogans such as “Hands Off Harvey” and “Harvey Weinstein Welcome to Russia.”
Ms. Vashukevich said she arrived in Thailand on Feb. 16, and that she was only an observer at the sex seminar but did not work at the event.
Several attendees said that no sex had been involved, and that the multiday training had focused on improving communication and on perfecting the art of seduction.
Those who are taken to the immigration detention center are often on the verge of being deported. But an immigration official said that Ms. Vashukevich and five others taken to the center still faced criminal charges for their part in the seminar. They will be sent back to Pattaya for court proceedings.
Ms. Vashukevich described being held in a crowded cell with more than 100 women and only three toilets. She said a Thai official had asked her to sign a paper saying that she believed she would be safe in Russia, but that she had refused.
In general, people seeking asylum must apply in the country where they hope to take refuge.
A spokeswoman for the American Embassy in Bangkok said she was aware of the arrests but declined to discuss the case or any asylum request.
Mr. Kirillov said that he believed publicity would help protect them. “I think the press makes us a little bit safer because if they killed us in the prison, everyone would know,” he said.