Updated at 16:29,01-07-2020

'Sex trainer' who said she could prove Russia meddled in US election freed

Andrew Roth, The Guardian

'Sex trainer' who said she could prove Russia meddled in US election freed
Vashukevich, pictured before her court hearing in Moscow, became an unlikely figure in the ‘Russiagate’ saga that linked Russia to the Trump campaign. Photograph: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters
Escort Anastasia Vashukevich released from Moscow jail amid speculation she may have cut a deal.

A Belarusian “sex trainer” who had claimed she could prove a Russian oligarch’s ties to the Trump campaign has been released from a Moscow jail, amid speculation that she may have cut a deal for her freedom.

Anastasia Vashukevich, the escort and model who also calls herself Nastya Rybka, became an unlikely figure in the sprawling “Russiagate” saga after she offered to trade information about collusion with Russia in the 2016 US presidential elections for asylum in the United States.

Before returning to Moscow last week, she had been held for nearly a year in a Thai prison for holding a sex workshop deemed illegal by the local authorities.

She was deported from Thailand on Thursday after pleading guilty and was detained by Russian authorities “on suspicion of enticement to prostitution” when her flight arrived in Moscow.

In interviews to US media last year, she had claimed to have hours of audio recordings aboard a yacht with metals magnate Oleg Deripaska and claimed she could show that he met with three Americans in 2016 who said they had “a plan for the election”.

Whether she ever had any real evidence remains unclear, and she now denies it. But a 2016 Instagram video she published aboard a yacht with Deripaska and a deputy prime minister of Russia touted Vashukevich as a possible font of information about the activities of powerful Russians before the US elections.

Vashukevich, who has not spoken with the press since her sudden release from a Moscow jail on Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment, is expected to make public remarks in Moscow on Wednesday.

While she remains a suspect in a case for “enticement to prostitution” in Russia, she has not been charged and her release on Tuesday means she is free from prison for the first time in nearly a year.

The revelations about Vashukevich’s proximity to Deripaska led to a year-long odyssey, which may finally be drawing to a close. After her video onboard Deripaska’s yacht was publicised by a Russian opposition leader last February, Vashukevich and several friends were arrested in Thailand for running an illegal “sex training seminar”. After 11 months in prison, she pleaded guilty and was deported back to Belarus via Russia on Friday.

A video of the arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport showed officials tossing Vashukevich into a wheelchair, prompting some outrage and concerns that she would be targeted for retribution for her public remarks against Deripaska and the Russian government.

In a court appearance on Saturday, Vashukevich offered a truce. She said she would “no longer compromise” Deripaska and that he could “relax”.

“Really, I’ve had enough,” she said.

Tuesday’s sudden release after four days behind bars indicated that Vashukevich’s troubles could be coming to an end, in a case that friends say was political from the very beginning. She was detained in Moscow with three others, including Alexander Kirillov, a self-described “sex guru” who was leading the Thai seminar.

“It was a political case [in Thailand], that was obvious, and clearly paid for by somebody,” said Kristina Sheremetyeva, Kirillov’s partner, in an interview.

“We received threats from people who were tying themselves to some big names,” she said, but said that those threats had not come from Deripaska.

She was also critical of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who had publicised Vashukevich’s videos as evidence of official corruption. “Let him pay our legal costs,” she said.

Navalny this week publicised audio from phone calls that had been leaked to YouTube. A claimant listed as “Deripaska O. V.” from the metals magnate’s hometown of Ust-Labinsk had sought to have the audio blocked. In the leaked telephone calls, several people identified as corporate lawyers seek to extend Vashukevich’s and Kirillov’s detentions in Thailand.

In an earlier investigation, Navalny had shown that Deripaska’s meeting on the yacht off the coast of Norway in August 2016 took place just days after his jet had flown between New York and Moscow. Deripaska has been a focus of the investigation because of his business relationship with Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the Trump campaign.

A company tied to Deripaska had accused Manafort of taking nearly $19m in investments that were never accounted for. During the campaign, Manafort had offered Deripaska private briefings, according to the Washington Post.

Deripaska’s representatives have accused Vashukevich of fabrication. A spokesperson decline to comment to the Guardian.