Scoop 19 January 2019

Deportation, detention and up to 8 years prison: the latest on Nastya Rybka

Thai Immigration police officers escort Anastasia Vashukevich towards a vehicle to take her to the airport for deportation in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

What happened

Escort Nastya Rybka (whose real name is Anastasia Vashukevich), caused a sensation a year ago when opposition figure Aleksei Navalny used material from her book, and Instagram account, to accuse billionaire Oleg Deripaska (on board whose yacht Rybka spent time), of corruption. When Rybka was subsequently arrested in Thailand on soliciting charges, she claimed that she had evidence Deripaska was seeking to influence the 2016 U.S. elections, but this has never been published. Finally released from Thai jail this week, Rybka did not spend long as a free woman. On returning to Russia, she was swiftly arrested.

A court hearing in Thailand and deportation. The main hearing for Nastya Rybka in Thailand, where she was accused of soliciting, took place between the 15 and 18 of January. Along with a group of other Russian defendants, she was ready for a long fight. But this turned out to be unnecessary. On the first day of hearing, all eight defendants pleaded guilty and got a suspended sentence and 9 months in prison, which they had already served. “At the very beginning of the hearing one of the defendants… pleaded guilty and got away with 9 months and a suspended sentence. The judge made it clear to the others, that if they acted similarly the result would be the same. That gave them courage and after a break the other 7 pleaded guilty,” said Nathan Feeney, a legal adviser to the group. From the courtroom they were moved to a police station and then to an immigration detention center. A video of them at this point shows them still handcuffed, but looking cheerful.

Relatives of the detainees told The Bell that various options were considered by the group in terms of their post-jail deportation from Thailand, and Rybka — a Belarusian citizen — was planning to change in Moscow for an onward flight to Minsk. “The Russian consul in Thailand, Vladimir Pronin, assured us everything would be fine and basically lead the detainees to the plane ladder,” a partner of one of group told The Bell.

Detention in a Moscow airport. Upon arrival in Moscow on Thursday, however, all the defendants in the Thai case, as well as two partners and one other man were detained. “About 6 people approached us in plainclothes, took our passports and pushed us into a small room without explaining anything,” the partner of one of the group, Kristina Sheremetieva, told The Bell. After a while, most of them were released, but Rybka and three others remain in custody. They were told they will be charged with involvement into prostitution, which can carry a sentence of 8 years in prison, if a minor was involved or if the crime was committed by an organized group. The detainees were moved to an unknown destination and their relatives were not provided any information on where they had been taken.

Rybka refused to leave Sheremetyevo as she is a Belarusian citizen and had a transit flight to Minsk two hours later. A video shared with The Bell by her husband Nikolai Vashukevich shows how she sat on the airport floor refusing to move. Several men are shown then lifting her up and putting her in a wheelchair, despite her screams, protests and resistance.

A new criminal case. Relatives, lawyers and journalists spent the following night searching for the four detainees. Eventually, police confirmed their detention and the reason for the detention, but the location of the detainees remained unclear.

At the same time, the houses of two spouses of the group were searched along with the flat of Aleksander Kirillov, known as Alex Leslie, who is the leader of the group. “The same people who detained us in Sheremetyevo came at night and woke up my neighbours asking them to be witnesses to the search. All electronic devices including my personal laptop were taken,” one of the spouses, in tears, told The Bell. “They read me a search warrant which stated that one of the former students of Leslie, Sasha Travka (real name Alexandra Danilova), bore witness that she was paid money by Leslie to seduce Deripaska.” According to Gregory Kogan, another sex-instructor and a friend of Leslie, Danilova was originally involved in organizing Leslie’s courses and was close to Rybka, but later began to distance herself from the group. Danilova did not answer a call seeking a request for comment.

The detainees were only located on Friday in a police precinct in a Moscow suburb. Now, they are awaiting a court hearing, which is likely to take place in the coming days.

Why the world should care

The treatment of Rybka and her associates makes it seem more and more likely that there has been high-level involvement in her case. Moreover, we do not know the fate of the evidence Rybka had of meddling in the U.S. elections. Based on reporting by The Bell, this may include a voice recording of Deripaska in conversation with a top Russian official who visited him at his country house near Krasnodar in September 2016.

Anastasia Stognei