News Brief

Escort Linked To Putin Ally Says She Has Audio Evidence of Russian Election Meddling

A Belarusian escort linked to a billionaire ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin has said from behind bars in Thailand that she has hours of audio recordings which could shed light on Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Speaking from her cell in Bangkok, Anastasia Vashukevich says she recorded Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska “discussing elections” with his associates, and has offered to hand the material to the U.S. government in return for American protection.

The escort — who also goes by the name Nastya Rybka — was arrested last month in Thailand for working without a permit at a sex-training seminar. She says her life would be in danger if she was deported back to her native Belarus.

“If America gives me protection, I will tell everything I know,” Vashukevich told the New York Times.

Vashukevich made headlines in Russia last month after videos she recorded on board Deripaska’s yacht were used as part of an investigation accusing Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko of corruption.

In one video found on Vashukevich’s Instagram account, Deripaska and Prikhodko can be heard discussing Russian-American relations. The corruption investigation was instigated by Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, Alexey Navalny, and the Russian government tried to pressure YouTube to remove it from its site.

Navalny’s investigation also used the escort’s video to link Prikhodko to Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman. Manafort in turn has a past business relationship with Deripaska, which is now under scrutiny as part of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Coverage of the arrest in Russian government-funded English media has taken a different tack, seeking to discredit her offer. The Sputnik website called it a means to “smooth her way to the US”, adding that she would have to be on American soil to apply for asylum.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok told the New York Times that she was aware of the arrest but would not comment further on the case.