BLINDED JUSTICE

A Rape in Paradise? The Alleged Victim Has Shocked the Shady Elites of the Seychelles

Until recently, travelers were clueless about the dangers lurking at luxury resorts overseas. The case of Anna Karabash puts a dramatic spotlight on those risks.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

VICTORIA, Seychelles—What happened in Villa 11 after midnight last May 4 on a remote, windswept island in the middle of the Indian Ocean—one of those places where guests pay $6,500 a week to relax in luxurious isolation?

Did a scheming young Russian woman, the sole guest in Villa 11, entice an innocent hotel staffer into visiting her in the dead of night, only to cry rape later and demand millions from the hotel?

Or was she among the increasing number of female tourists who are assaulted, drugged—or both—at exotic locales in expensive resorts where they think they are safe and protected?

Most people who fly halfway across the world to this archipelago midway between Sri Lanka and the eastern coast of Africa come for the crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, giant tortoises, and the world’s most lewd fruit, the coco de mer—the “love nut” that resembles female buttocks and genitalia and some think inspired the story of the Garden of Eden.

But paradise can have a flip side, especially for women. Which is why I arrived in Victoria, the capital of the main island of Mahé, over the new year’s holiday to cover the harrowing rape trial of Anna Karabash, a 40-year-old single mother and public-relations executive from Moscow.

Anna said she was attacked at knifepoint in her idyllic oceanfront villa at the new, $115 million Six Senses Zil Pasyon on Félicité, a small island filled with big black granite boulders and acres of desolate forest, 35 miles in rough seas from Mahé. Zil Pasyon (or “island of passion” in the local Creole language) was barely inhabited for centuries before construction began on the resort in 2008. She wants to see her alleged attacker behind bars and wants compensation from the resort.

However, if you’re like Anna and have ever contemplated returning to the scene of a rape or other violent crime hoping for justice in a faraway island nation—or any banana republic or Third World country—good luck.

First, almost nobody in the Seychelles believes her, including most of the local Russians on Mahé who were brought in to help her navigate the legal system. Friends of mine who I’ve told about her also think she’s lying.

The main reason why they don’t believe her is that she emailed the hotel owner asking for a million euros (roughly $1.23 million) in compensation the day after the alleged attack, and that she’s Russian. (If you want to find out if I believe her, read to the end.)

Second, if your case even gets before a judge, be prepared for a furious defense attorney to scream at you for hours. He may also demand you demonstrate anal rape positions in front of the entire courtroom—which includes a bunch of bailiffs who fill the seats and laugh during the most graphic testimony.

That’s what happened during the grueling cross-examination of Anna, an attempted takedown so brutal it made me peel off my entire gel manicure and bite my nails to the quick just watching the nearly seven-hour interrogation.

“You’re a liar! A prostitute!” defense attorney Basil Hoareau bellowed at Anna. Hoareau insisted she was “sexually charged” and seduced the suspect into coming to her room, where they “made love” only to turn on him and accuse him of rape so she could shake down the hotel.

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Anna seemed unfazed during her courtroom ordeal, which was conducted in the local Creole-accented English. She gave as good as she got, never cracking. She ignored Hoareau’s slurs about Russians, the “Kremlin” and the “KGB,” but not his repeated references to her alleged “lovemaking” with the suspect.

“It was not ‘making love’!” she yelled back at Hoareau. “It was rape!”

Judge Ronny Govinden, in his British-style white wig, admonished Anna, shaking his head in exasperation when she fought back and challenged Hoareau.

“You’re not here to ask him the questions,” he told her. “You’re not the lawyer here.”

The accused rapist, Ravind Soudhooa, a scruffy-looking 38-year-old Mauritian, sat directly across from her in the dock, looking dazed. He doesn’t deny having sex with Anna, but his lawyer said he claims it was consensual.  

In September 2017, when Soudhooa was out on bail for allegedly raping Anna, he was found naked in the apartment of a woman who was a stranger in the middle of the night. He was arrested again—this time on three counts of criminal trespassing involving intent to commit a felony and indecent act, and now is being held without bail. Those facts aren’t allowed in Anna’s trial, however.

The stakes are huge

The main owners/investors of Six Senses Zil Pasyon, Mukesh Valabhji and his wife Laura, are two of the most powerful and politically connected people in the Seychelles. Laura Valabhji is also a lawyer for the hotel and hired Hoareau to defend Soudhooa. She sat behind Hoareau during Anna’s cross-examination, giving him notes and rolling her eyes when Anna testified.

“The stakes are huge for this hotel,” a local reporter told me. “The owners don’t want to lose. What they want is for this all to go away.”

Indeed, the rape trial was abruptly and for no reason postponed until May, just after Anna’s cross-examination on Dec. 30. One recent report about the Seychelles legal system described some of the judges as “rogue,” sexist, and prone to delaying cases indefinitely as a ploy to get complainants to give up.

Unfortunately for the Seychelles, Anna is unlikely to give up or go away.

She is one of the most unusual “victims” I’ve ever met. At first, we clashed and I didn’t like her. I also had some doubts about her story.

This is awkward when you’ve arrived here at the height of #MeToo in the U.S. and Europe and envision a tearful but triumphant heroine, someone Rose McGowan might play in the movie version.

But Anna didn’t cry. She wasn’t likeable. She was defiant and imperious, occasionally correcting the defense attorney’s sometimes-mangled English syntax. She cracked sarcastic jokes and mocked him. She gave the entire courtroom so much shit that I thought the judge was going to order her into chains and throw her in solitary.

Both the prosecutor and defense attorney questioned her lack of emotion. So did I. Why not play the sympathy card?

“A very, very bad thing happened to me,” Anna told me. “But it was not my fault. Why should I show everyone the pain I feel? Why should I have any shame? Everyone in that courtroom should be ashamed, not me.”

Her steeliness—and razor-sharp intelligence—made more sense as I got to know her during our week in the Seychelles. Her grandfather Alexey Karabash, who was born in 1911 and whose life spanned the Romanovs, the Russian Revolution, Stalin, Khrushchev, glasnost and Vladimir Putin, was a well-known nuclear physicist who worked on the first nuclear tests under Stalin. He knew a little about pressure, having tangled with Stalin’s fearsome NKVD henchman Lavrenti Beria, who would have executed the whole nuclear team had their tests failed.

Anna didn’t cry

Anna is not alone in reporting an attack at a foreign hotel. Over the past 20 years, as the world has contracted, people from all over the planet are colliding with locals from very different cultures at expensive resorts built in exotic, remote—often very poor—locations.

But she’s very rare in pressing charges—criminal and civil—and coming back to testify.

North American tourists, women in particular, are being drugged with tainted alcohol, assaulted, and robbed at posh Mexican hotels in “blackout attacks.” In January, the U.S. government issued a travel advisory for Jamaica, warning “sexual assaults occur frequently, even at all-inclusive resorts.”

Some women go on a dream vacation overseas and never come home. The Korkki sisters, Robin, 42, and Anne, 37, two healthy, successful financial-services executives from the U.S., were found dead in their beds at another Seychelles hotel, the $2,000-per-night Maia Luxury Resort on the main island of Mahé, in September 2016. After a brief investigation, the local police said the sisters both died of excess fluid in the lungs and brain due to a combination of “excess alcohol” and prescription medication. The identical deaths were termed “accidental” and their bodies were cremated on the island.

Until recently, travelers were clueless about the dangers lurking at overseas resorts. TripAdvisor often deleted reports of assaults and other crimes, calling them “hearsay” until an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year exposed the frequency of the attacks and called out the website. TripAdvisor had to apologize for whitewashing comments and restored some deleted posts.

Among the posts Trip Advisor refused to publish was a report by Kristie Love of Dallas, Texas, who said she was raped by a security guard at the Iberostar resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico, in 2010. Love returned to Mexico to press charges against the security guard and for awhile thought she was making headway.

The local police chief took an interest in the case and tried to help her. Two months later, he was found shot dead in his car in what was believed to be a warning from drug cartels to local law enforcement to lay off the case. Love returned to Dallas and the status of the security guard remains unknown.

Some women go on a dream vacation overseas and never come home.

I wasn’t worried about local gangs offing policemen in the Seychelles when I took off from London for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, then switched planes for the three-hour flight to Victoria, Mahé, which lies about 1,100 miles east of Somalia.

For one, I knew nobody on the Seychelles had Anna’s back and little did I know it would get worse once they heard her in court. But I knew the Seychelles was much more than a place for honeymooners like Prince William and Kate Middleton.

On the plane, I read Alec Waugh’s Seychelles memoir, Where the Clocks Chime Twice, published in 1938. He arrived by boat, a five-day sail from India. There was no airport here until 1972.

In Waugh’s day, the descendants of slave-owning French plantation owners, the first to hold power here before Britain took control in 1810, were called “les grands blancs.” They mixed with a British colonial society overrun with eccentric diplomats as well as other foreigners whom Waugh indicated often had murky, if not nefarious, reasons for coming ashore in the middle of nowhere.

As for women, Waugh wrote, “just a few years before my arrival, the regulations of the Code Napoléon were still in force. Legally a Seychelloise was the chattel of her husband; she could not practice a profession without his consent; she could not own property; she could not receive letters unless he read them first.”

Once Seychelles gained its independence in 1976, under the ruthless strongman/president France-Albert René, who ruled until 2004, the islands went from quirky and isolated to what one writer called a “gangster’s paradise,” a haven for international money laundering, fraudulent banking, mobsters, drug smuggling, and murder.

In 1982, Victoria had only 20,000 people, but eight international banks. In 2012, the Al Jazeera documentary How to Rob Africa presented an undercover investigation showing how those divesting Africa of diamonds did so with the help of labyrinthine shell companies headquartered on Seychelles.

U.S. Ambassador David Fischer described his stint there as right “out of an Eric Ambler novel where an innocent character stumbles onto something and he becomes involved in a huge conspiracy.”

A gangster’s paradise

When I stumbled out of the icy-cold customs hall at the Seychelles airport on Mahé and into the sticky tropical heat of Victoria, I took a cab to a hotel at Beau Vallon beach on the northwest end of the island where I was staying and Anna had already checked in.

Our first 24 hours together did not go well. Though I am a feminist, I am foremost a reporter and don’t automatically believe anyone’s story—male or female—without investigating it first.

That said, I was primed to meet a plucky yet traumatized survivor, no doubt dreading having to testify in court the next day.

Instead I got Anna, with roots going back to Cossack fighters in Chechnya, fresh from doing some yoga and meditation on the beach, cocky, oddly cheerful—and more than a little bossy and critical.

Over dinner to discuss her case, it got worse. She criticized an innocent remark I made to the waiter and I told her to back off. She lit a cigarette and took a sip of her white wine. It didn’t bother her. I would soon find that nothing did. If she was nervous about court, it didn’t show.

The local junior Russian consul, Dimitry, picked us up at the hotel the next morning for the winding, 20-minute drive past palm trees, meandering tortoises, and the fogged-in peaks of Trois Frères into Victoria. The stark, white modern supreme court just outside town was built five years ago.

“The Chinese bought us that courthouse,” said Alexander Staferov, a longtime Russian resident of Seychelles who became a member of Anna’s local entourage, and has a bullet wound from the Angolan civil war and speaks colloquial American English for reasons he does not divulge.

“Or should I say they gifted us with it,” he told us. “It used to be that the Americans and Russians were jockeying for power and influence here. But your countries are yesterday’s news. It’s the Chinese versus India now with a couple of Arabs thrown in. We’re not too fond of the U.S. since they squeezed our balls in offshore banking.”

‘I saw his face and a knife’

Anna’s trial took place in Courtroom 2. She didn’t testify the first day and wasn’t allowed in, so she curled up on a bench outside, sleeping or smoking. She missed the posse of ragtag, grinning Somalian pirates who interrupted the proceedings for a quick arraignment of their own.

When called two days later, she was first questioned by prosecutor David Esparon, whose father was murdered by burglars in October 2017. She told the court her story:

She’d come to the Seychelles with her Russian friend Katja, who runs a PR agency in Moscow and London. The two occasionally go on organized press trips to posh resorts. Anna’s 10-year-old son stayed in Moscow with her ex-husband.

The villas at Zil Pasyon are each 50 meters apart and a good 20 minutes by foot to reception, the restaurant, pool, and spa. Guests are driven to and from their villas by buggy. Most villas are occupied by couples, but Anna and Katja both had one to themselves. Katja’s was far from Anna’s.

Anna said she was asleep, around 12:40 a.m., when she woke up to feel her panties torn open by a man in bed next to her.

“When I opened my eyes, I saw his face and a knife,” she said. “He smelled drunk and he began raping me, vaginally and anally, for the next 90 minutes. He told me he was going to kill me. I screamed but the location was so remote nobody heard me. It was terrifying. I thought I’d never see my son again.”

Anna tried to escape twice, but the suspect captured her both times and continued raping her, she said.  She said the man alternated between threatening her and telling her stories about his life back in Mauritius. At one point he said he wanted to marry her, she said.

“I had to do something to save myself so decided to talk more warmly to him and persuaded him to take a shower,” Anna said. “The way the villa is laid out, he could see me while he was showering. I had this idea to tell him I would give him an aspirin so he wouldn’t be so hung over the next day.”

What Anna called her “trick,” involved slipping a strong pill, Seroquel, into the glass, hoping that the aspirin would cloud up the water and hide it. She also poured herself a glass of water with aspirin.

When he got out of the shower, she gave him the glass of water and persuaded him to sit on the patio where they both smoked cigarettes. Anna said the Seroquel had been prescribed to her for insomnia and she hoped it would make her alleged attacker fall asleep.

After 20 minutes he did, she said, and she threw on a dress and sneakers and ran out of the villa, sprinting into the darkness trying to find help, which took upwards of an hour.

Security guards found the suspect back at the villa. Anna said he was trying to escape. Defense lawyer Hoareau argued he was found calmly sitting on the patio because Anna had invited him there and he thought she was coming back.

“The truth is you were not raped, Madame!” Hoareau screamed. “You saw this as an opportunity to make money. Your reactions from the very beginning to right now in the courtroom are not consistent with someone who’s been raped. A woman who’s been raped—“

Oh so you know what it’s like to be a woman who’s been raped? You know how I should behave?
Anna Karabash

Anna cut him off. “Oh so you know what it’s like to be a woman who’s been raped? You know how I should behave?”

“Let me finish please, Madame,” Hoareau said. “A woman who was raped would be crying, would be hysterical, would be emotional. You were not emotional and you’re still not.”

Nor did Anna get emotional when Hoareau questioned her in detail about the alleged anal rape, asking her to step outside the witness box to demonstrate to the courtroom what position the suspect placed her in when he sodomized her.

He also repeatedly asked her if she had “resisted” or “allowed” or “accepted” the anal rape in a detailed, graphic exchange that went on for 10 minutes.

Hoareau, for all his bluster and bullying, was a skilled defense attorney and confused Anna at times, tripping her on small details. His best ammunition was provided by Anna herself: The email she sent to Zil Pasyon co-owner Laura Vilabjhi the day she returned to Moscow, asking for €1 million within one week or threatening to tell her story to international media. (Vilabjhi did not respond to a phone call from The Daily Beast requesting comment.)

Although she has a $500,000 civil suit pending against the resort, Anna said she regrets sending the email and knows that it could be construed as what one local watching the trial called a “typical Russian scammer.”

“I was really upset,” she said. “I did it without thinking. I didn’t ask advice. I didn’t think ahead to how it would look.”

After her cross-examination, Anna and I had dinner at a beachfront bar near our hotel. I was exhausted and shocked by her ordeal, but Anna just lit a cigarette and smiled.

I told her that watching her testify was life-changing because it was proof you don’t have to be ashamed of even the most humiliating and degrading experiences.

“I just wanted to show them,” she said. “I don’t care if they didn’t like how I behaved. I wanted to show them who I was and what happened to me.”

We went swimming in the Indian Ocean the next morning before our flights home. By then, all the irritation I felt toward her had washed away, I’m not even sure why.

‘Anna’s not your typical rape victim’

I spoke to several of Anna’s friends and colleagues including Katja, who was at the resort with Anna, and she confirmed her version of events. Katja said the resort manager was rude to Anna when he questioned them both hours after the alleged attack and failed to call the police in from a nearby island. Katja said the police didn’t come until she called them herself at 10 a.m.

Anna’s friend of 10 years, a former Muscovite named Gayla Nezhinsky who now lives in Israel, confirmed that Anna told her about the assault two days after she returned to Moscow. Gayla said she was so shocked by Anna’s story and how “lifeless” Anna seemed on the phone that she had her to come recuperate with them in Tel Aviv for two weeks.

Tamar Brosh, a Berlin-based trauma therapist and a rape survivor herself, began working with Anna on Skype just days after her attack and coached her before the trial.

“Anna’s not your typical rape victim,” Brosh told me. “She’s more in control of her emotions. It makes you wonder in the beginning because you want to see blood. But Russian women can be like that. I know many of them and their inner strength and resilience are something else. They’re tough and don’t like showing their emotions.”

“After working with her, I definitely believe her,” Brosh said. “But she’s not looking for empathy. She’s looking for justice and I hope she gets it.”

Me too.