MOSCOW — A model whose alleged affair with a Russian oligarch made her an unexpected player in probes into Moscow’s influence, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Thailand to charges linked to a “sex training” seminar, setting the stage for her deportation.
The model and self-described sex expert from Belarus, Anastasia Vashukevich, claimed that she recorded meetings between Russian metals magnate Oleg Deripaska and unspecified Americans in 2016 to discuss Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Vashukevich posted video of Deripaska meeting with a senior Russian official on a yacht, but Deripaska has denied wrongdoing, and no evidence has emerged that she possessed any new details about the election.
On Tuesday, Vashukevich and seven Russians pleaded guilty to conspiracy and soliciting prostitution, clearing the way for them to be released after nine months in a Thai jail.
Vashukevich’s claims about recording Deripaska were notable because the oligarch has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and used to work with President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Manafort has pleaded guilty in the United States to crimes stemming from his work as a political consultant in Ukraine before joining Trump’s campaign.
Soon after Vashukevich’s apparent connection to Deripaska came to light early last year, she and several Russians were arrested while conducting what she described as a sex training seminar for Russian tourists in the Thai resort town of Pattaya.
In jail, she pleaded for U.S. help, saying she had information on ties between Russia and Trump. On Instagram, she claimed that she was “the only witness and the missing link in the connection between Russia and the U.S. elections.”
But none of the alleged recordings were ever made public.
Vashukevich had long promoted herself as an expert on sex and the art of seduction, and she wrote a book on her alleged liaison with Deripaska titled “A Diary About Seducing a Billionaire.” Deripaska has said that Vashukevich was making up stories, and he won a court case against her in which he argued that Vashukevich was violating his privacy.
On Tuesday, a lawyer for one of the seven people arrested alongside Vashukevich said that all eight of them pleaded guilty, prompting the Thai court to suspend their sentences and order their release.
Their prison terms were waived in view of time served. They were then returned to a prison in Pattaya, a beach city south of Bangkok, where their shackles were removed, said the lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing legal matter.
Vashukevich, who has also gone by the name Nastya Rybka, and the others are now set to be deported from Thailand, a process that Thai officials say will take about five days.
It was not immediately clear where Vashukevich, a citizen of Belarus, would be sent. A friend, Gregory Kogan, said Vashukevich was hoping to be deported somewhere other than Russia.
“They feel quite lucky,” Kogan said. “But the real relaxation will come when they are free.”
A court document filed in the United States last week revealed that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has remained closely focused on Manafort's interactions with Russians during the campaign, including his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, an employee of Manafort's political consulting firm. FBI has assessed that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.
Kilimnik also served as Manafort’s liaison to Deripaska. In July 2016, Manafort wrote to Kilimnik and directed him to offer “private briefings” about the campaign to the Russian businessman. A spokeswoman for Deripaska has said he was never offered the briefings and did not receive any. Representatives of Deripaska did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Kilimnik has said that he and Manafort met in New York to discuss Manafort's unpaid bills from Ukraine on Aug. 2, 2016. Days later, Vashukevich recorded Deripaska and Sergei Prikhodko, then Russian’s deputy prime minister, together on a yacht off the coast of Norway.
Helderman reported from Washington and Mahtani from Hong Kong. Wilawan Watcharasakwet in Bangkok contributed to this report.