Europe

Nastya Rybka: Model who got caught up in the Trump-Russia row

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Media captionNastya Rybka talks about her visit from the FBI during her time in a Thai prison

Nastya Rybka spent a few days "just partying" with a Russian billionaire on his yacht, and boasted to the world about her coup.

But that billionaire was Oleg Deripaska, a powerful friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And she later claimed she had evidence of Russian interference in the Trump election campaign.

Rybka herself, a Belarusian model, was to spend a year in prison in Thailand, in her eyes an unwitting victim used by others.

"I fell in love. He is a very handsome man and has beautiful eyes. Why not?" she said of Mr Deripaska in an interview with BBC Russian in Moscow.

All she wanted was to be on Mr Deripaska's yacht, she says. She got what she wanted in 2016, but talking about it has caused Mr Deripaska nothing but grief.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Belarusian model appeared in court in Moscow this month accused of engaging in prostitution, but has been freed from jail

US sanctions were slapped on the aluminium magnate and other Russian tycoons last year for "malign activity" involving Russia. It also emerged he had had business contacts with Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman in Donald Trump's election bid.

"He has a lot of troubles," says Rybka, whose real name is Anastasia Vashukevich. "I think I started those troubles, I am the beginning of it."

The billionaire denied her allegations and successfully sued for invasion of privacy both the model and her so-called "pick-up coach" Alex Lesley, otherwise known as Alexander Kirillov.

How model ended up in Thai jail

Nastya Rybka shot to notoriety a year ago when her book and Instagram posts with photographs and descriptions of people she met on the yacht in 2016 were picked apart by Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

He identified a high-ranking official from President Putin's administration, Sergei Prikhodko, as one of the visitors.

Mr Prikhodko dealt mainly with foreign policy issues and after the account became public he was vague about whether or not he had been hosted by Mr Deripaska, as had been alleged.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Nastya Rybka and her "pick-up coach" Alexander Kirillov were deported from Thailand this month

Shortly after Alexei Navalny published his findings in a video posted on the internet, Mr Deripaska sued on privacy grounds and the video was blocked by Russia's media watchdog. Russian media which had cited Mr Navalny's findings had to retract their publications.

Meanwhile, Rybka and Alexander Kirillov went to Thailand for another "sex-training" session.

On 25 February 2018 they were arrested on charges of working without permits, which were later changed to soliciting to provide sexual services.

The pair believed the prosecution was connected to the scandal in Russia.

Why Rybka appealed to FBI

Shortly after her arrest Rybka thought that the Americans could help her out.

Appealing to US media via a shaky Instagram video in a police van, she said she had important information, as well as "missing bits of the puzzle" regarding connections between the Russian establishment, Paul Manafort and the Trump campaign.

Now, bizarrely, she says it was the Americans who arranged her imprisonment.

"Maybe (the) Americans were afraid that I have something against the new president," she says. "It's not our game, it's bigger than us."

She is coy about the sort of information she was promising, and insists she did not give the US investigators anything.

"The FBI asked whether I have any material on Trump, Manafort, Deripaska's life. A lot of people came and asked the same. After that I decided that what I have is dangerous for me. I sent it to Oleg Deripaska," she said.

It is not known what material she had, if any. Nor is it known if Mr Deripaska ever received anything.

On 17 January, she and Leslie received suspended sentences and were deported from Thailand.

'I have to live here'

Arriving in Russia they were arrested again, on charges of coercing people into prostitution. Rybka's lawyer posted a video on Instagram showing her arrest.

By now she had become contrite and begged Oleg Deripaska's forgiveness.

Two days later both were released from Russian custody, although the case is still not closed.

Rybka says she doesn't have any material connected to that affair. "I don't have any mobile phones or computers any more."

Nastya Rybka insists she did not cut any deals with anyone in exchange for her release. But she does not deny that as soon as she was back in Russia, she was told in no uncertain terms how to behave.

"I was explained how I can talk about it. And I have to live here. The official version is that I haven't got any records and whatever records there were are gone."

Now she and her mentor appear to blame Alexei Navalny for all their troubles. And this view matches both Oleg Deripaska's and Russia's official view of the story: an innocent leisure trip that was magnified into a tale of corruption and international conspiracy.

So what did Nastya Rybka mean a year ago when she said Oleg Deripaska was involved in Russian government meddling in the US presidential election?

"I can't answer that question," she says.