THE HUNTRESS HUNTED
The Sex Worker Who Could Hold Keys to Mueller Probe Freed From Moscow Jail
Nastya Rybka may not know as much as she claims about a sanctioned Russian oligarch and Paul Manafort. But if not, why did the oligarch try so hard to keep her in prison?
Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s nemesis, the 28-year-old Belarusian self-declared “seductress” and “huntress of billionaires” known as Nastya Rybka, just got out of jail in Moscow.
And Deripaska must have thought things were going so well.
As we now know, he worked hard to keep her locked up in Thailand, or Russia—wherever, as long as she would quit telling her stories and showing her videotapes about him talking American politics, Trump politics, with a deputy prime minister of Russia at the height of the U.S. elections.
Whether Rybka’s information sheds light on the Russia collusion investigation or not, the fact that Deripaska used to be a client of jailed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort makes those conversations highly suspicious.
Still, Deripaska had reason to be pleased as the annual World Economic Forum readied to open in Davos, Switzerland, this week.
Late last year, Deripaska was told that he and oligarchs Andrei Kostin and Viktor Vekselberg would not be welcome at the gathering because they are on the U.S. Treasury’s sanctions list. But after Russia threatened to boycott the forum altogether, the organizers lifted the ban on the three men.
Those packing their bags for the Alps thought they could count on another one of Deripaska’s lavish parties, “where executives and world leaders rub elbows with scores of attractive Russian women,” as Bloomberg News put it.
Adding to Deripaska’s good fortune, as The New York Times reported, he has recently negotiated a very favorable deal with the U.S. Treasury to get sanctions lifted on his companies.
But on Monday things started to go wrong for the oligarch, and at the last minute he told his followers on Instagram he wouldn’t be going to Davos this year; he’d be fishing on Lake Baikal.
Then Rybka and her associate Alexander Kirillov were released. And that surprise came just after—perhaps because of—a highly damning exposé about Deripaska and the petite, blonde Rybka (real name Anastasia Vashukevich) was posted by Russian opposition democrat Aleksei Navalny.
On Monday, Navalny put up on his website two recordings of telephone conversations that concerned Deripaska and Rybka, who had until today been languishing in a Moscow prison after being arrested along with Kirillov and two others (who were released immediately) at Sheremetyevo Airport on Jan. 17.
Rybka and Kirillov had just landed on a flight from Thailand, where they spent nine months in jail with members of their group for allegedly conducting illegal sex activities (part of a program of so-called sex training).
Rybka first gained notoriety from a book, The Diary of How to Seduce a Billionaire, and an investigative report, “Yachts, Oligarchs, Girls: A Huntress for Men Exposes a Bribe-Taker” published in February 2018 by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund.
It told the story of a 2016 yachting excursion off the coast of Norway that Rybka had taken with Deripaska. That report, based on Rybka’s photos and videos, revealed that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko was also on board and that he and Deripaska had discussed the U.S. election campaign.
Navalny received the audio tapes a couple of months ago from an anonymous person who said in a note to Navalny that they were from a “silovik” (a member of Putin’s entourage with security and intelligence backgrounds) “who takes part in this despicable activity, in which Putin himself is interested.” The anonymous donor “wanted people to know the truth.” Deripaska himself, it turns out, learned about the audiotapes and has filed a lawsuit demanding that Russian internet providers block access to them. But that has not stopped the indomitable Navalny.
The first audio recording posted by Navalny is a conversation in English that two Russians, “Tatiana” and “Georgii,” have with a foreign legal expert named “William” about the need to keep Rybka and her group, under arrest in Thailand for illegal business activity, locked up.
“William” tells them that, according to Thai law, the group will just be fined and deported. When the crime does not involve drugs, William says, there is usually no prison sentence. Georgii gets impatient and agitated, insisting that “we are very interested in that these people remain in prison, that the court sentences them to prison.” The conversation ends inconclusively.
The big enchilada here is that, through his usual meticulous research, Navalny was able to identify the two Russian speakers. “Tatiana,” he says, is Tatiana Monegen (she goes by Monaghan in English), who has been general secretary of the Russian branch of the International Chamber of Commerce since Russia joined the ICC in 2000. (In the 1990s, Monegen was an adviser on Russia for the World Economic Forum and helped to get Russia admitted to the World Trade Organization.)
Significantly, the chairman of the Russian Committee of the ICC happens to be none other than Deripaska! Navalny even reveals that the Moscow telephone number of the committee (7495-720-50-80) is the same number as that of Deripaska’s vast aluminum company, Rusal.
Navalny adds his own commentary: “I would very much like for all members of this independent international organization [the ICC], founded in 1919, to know what its representatives are doing 100 years later, in 2019. The general secretary [of the Russian committee] Monegen is resolving the problems of the chairman Deripaska with prostitutes.”
“Georgii,” Navalny says, is one Georgii Oganov, a member of the board of directors of Deripaska’s conglomerate Basic Element (as of now, under sanctions) and an adviser to Deripaska. Oganov, who speaks several languages, graduated from the venerable feeder institution for diplomats and intelligence officers, Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), in 1975 and served in several diplomatic posts, including as press attaché in Washington, before joining Basic Element in 2003. Oganov also sits on the prestigious Russian Business Advisory Council to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization (APEC), as a deputy to Deripaska, one of three representatives on the council.
The second telephone recording produced by Navalny is allegedly between Deripaska and Evgenii Agarkov, who Navalny identifies as the director of an offshore company that owns the yacht Deripaska was on with Rybka. Agarkov, it seems, went along on the trip.
Deripaska asks Agarkov if he has ever used the professional services of the diminutive Nastya Rybka, and then says, “Why didn’t you tell me you had this Belorusian mouse?”
Agarkov insists that he was with Rybka “not on the boat, nowhere.” Deripaska then accuses Agarkov of giving Rybka his contact information, including his personal telephone number, which Agarkov denies, unconvincingly.
This last conversation might seem pretty harmless, given all that is known and alleged about Deripaska and Rybka. But Deripaska’s efforts to have Rybka arrested and jailed puts the conversation in a different light. Deripaska already filed a legal complaint against Rybka for the book she published last year, where she describes a relationship with an unnamed oligarch widely presumed to be him.
Navalny makes an allegation that might be leveled against many a Russian oligarch: “I declare that Oleg Deripaska should be charged with engaging in prostitution for selecting, through trial casting, Nastya Rybka (and dozens of other girls, including minors), bringing them to his dachas and yachts and paying them for sex with him, official Prikhodko and other drinking companions. In the interests of Deripaska, Deripaska’s people and Deripaska’s full management have organized a whole complex and streamlined supply system for prostitutes, which Deripaska himself actively uses.”
Deripaska has been dogged by scandals for years. When the U.S. Treasury sanctioned him and several of his businesses last April, it mentioned in a press release that Deripaska was being investigated for money-laundering and had in the past been accused of numerous crimes, including bribery, extortion, racketeering, and even murder. A dossier on Deripaska, published on the website Russian Mafia, offers extensive documentation of the many criminal allegations against him.
So what is it about Rybka that so ignited Deripaska’s wrath? When she was arrested in Thailand last year, she managed to post video from what looked like the back of the police van threatening implicitly to publicize more revelations about Deripaska’s role in Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
After her deportation, when she was arrested in Moscow, Rybka issued a statement apologizing to Deripaska and Prikhodko and promising Deripaska that she would not publish anything more that might compromise the oligarch. So she clearly assumed that her fate was in his hands. As Navalny observed: “All the illegal and truly horrible things that are happening to Nastya Rybka now are the personal work of Oleg Deripaska.”
Perhaps thanks to the intervention of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who today publicly demanded Rybka’s release, she and Kirillov are free, although their case is still pending.
But Navalny’s exposé may also have played a role. Navalny directed a message to Deripaska and Prikhodko: “You yourselves, not Rybka, are to blame. You called for prostitutes on the yacht. Well, you should have understood that they will not provide you with confidentiality. Order next time through the FSO [the Federal Protection Service]. Let Rybka collect her things and get home to Belarus. Cancel your order. Maybe you will decide to teach her a severe lesson in the SIZO [detention cell] or even have her die. But for you this will not end well. That’s for sure.”