Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Thailand deports model who claimed evidence of Russian hand in Trump election

Anastasia Vashukevich offered to provide recordings after arrest as part of a sex training group

Anastasia Vashukevich, a Belarusian model and escort, at the immigration detention centre in Bangkok before being deported on January 17, 2019. Reuters
Anastasia Vashukevich, a Belarusian model and escort, at the immigration detention centre in Bangkok before being deported on January 17, 2019. Reuters

A Belarusian model who claimed last year that she had evidence of Russian involvement in helping elect Donald Trump president was deported from Thailand on Thursday.

Anastasia Vashukevich along with seven co-defendants pleaded guilty this week in a case related to holding a sex training seminar in Thailand. They were arrested almost a year ago in the seaside resort town of Pattaya, which is especially popular with Russian tourists.

Thailand's immigration police chief, Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, said most of the group left on flights shortly after noon, those going to Russia on one flight and those headed to Belarus on another. Vashukevich and at least one of the other deportees hold passports from Belarus.

While in custody, Vashukevich claimed to have recordings of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska talking about interference in the 2016 US election, but never released them.

Mr Deripaska is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and also had a working relationship with Paul Manafort, Mr Trump's former campaign manager who was investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller and convicted last year of tax and bank fraud.

Vashukevich — also known on social media as Nastya Rybka — and her co-defendants were convicted of soliciting and conspiracy and given suspended 18-month prison terms. The group had said that they were conducting a class on sexual relationships.

Lt Gen Surachate said Russian self-styled sex guru Alexander Kirillov, Vashukevich's mentor in the sex training business, would take a Thursday night flight because no more seats were available earlier.

In the early stages of their detention, the sex training group sent a note to the US Embassy via an intermediary seeking help and political asylum. Vashukevich indicated she would turn over the recordings she claimed to have if the US could help secure her release, but later withdrew the offer, suggesting that she and Mr Deripaska had reached an agreement.

A public scandal erupted in early February last year when Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny published an investigation drawing on Vashukevich's social media posts suggesting corrupt links between Mr Deripaska and a top Kremlin official, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko. The investigative report featured video from Mr Deripaska's yacht in 2016, when Vashukevich, who has also worked as an escort, was aboard.

On Wednesday in Washington, the US Senate narrowly upheld a Treasury Department decision to lift sanctions from three companies connected to Mr Deripaska.

The Treasury Department says the Russian companies have committed to separating from Mr Deripaska, who will remain blacklisted as part of an array of measures announced in April last year that targeted tycoons close to the Kremlin.

Mr Deripaska was one of 24 Russian officials and tycoons faced with sanctions as Washington stepped up its condemnation of Russia's actions in recent years, including its 2014 annexation of Crimea, support for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, hacking attacks and meddling in western elections.

The metals tycoon controls a business empire with assets in aluminium, energy and construction and is worth $5.3 billion (Dh19.5bn), according to Forbes magazine.

Updated: January 17, 2019 12:24 PM

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