FBI agents tried to meet with an escort detained in Thailand who claims to have information about Russian involvement in President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, but they were refused access by Thai officials, CNN reported Tuesday.
The FBI’s reported attempt last week provides the first indication that U.S. investigators are looking seriously at claims made by the 21-year-old Belarusian with a flamboyant NSFW social media presence named Anastasia Vashukevich, who goes by the name Nastya Rybka.
Vashukevich, who was detained in Thailand in February over an alleged visa violation, has emerged at the center of a strange and sexually-charged political firestorm involving U.S.-Russian relations.
The self-described “sex huntress” claims to have been an eyewitness at meetings between well-connected Russians and unnamed Americans. From her cell in Bangkok, she’s told The New York Times she has over 16 hours of relevant audio recordings, and offered to turn them over to American investigators in exchange for political asylum.
FBI agents contacted Thai immigration officials last week about trying to meet Vashukevich and another man detained with her, a self-proclaimed “sex guru” named Alex Kirillov who goes by the name Alex Lesley, CNN said. But the request was denied because Thai officials would only allow legal representatives and family members are allowed to meet with the pair, according to CNN.
An FBI spokesperson declined to confirm or deny the outreach to VICE News. Peter Carr, spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian meddling in the election, declined to comment. Other U.S. and Thai agencies either declined to comment or said they had no idea what was going on.
“We are aware of media reports of this individual’s arrest by Thai authorities,” said Jillian Bonnardeaux, spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Thailand. “We refer you to Thai law enforcement for further information.”
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying: “With regard to your inquiry about the Belarusian individual who claims to have information about Russia meddling with U.S. elections, we regret to inform you that the Department of Information does not have further information on this matter.”
Vashukevich stepped into the international spotlight in February as the unwitting star of an investigative documentary video created by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which drew heavily on her social media posts to make its claims.
The 25-minute video posted to YouTube purports to shows a powerful Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska — a billionaire with ties to Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort — taking a three-day pleasure cruise on a yacht off the coast of Norway in August 2016 in the company of Vashukevich and Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko.
Navalny said the lavish entertainment amounted to a “bribe” by the oligarch. He also pointed to the well-known ties between Manafort and Deripaska to suggest the meeting may have been one link in a chain between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign. But while an audio clip presented in the documentary indicates the two men did mention U.S.-Russian relations, the film provides no proof that they discussed the U.S. election.
Deripaska has denied any wrongdoing, calling the allegations “the result of a planned campaign aiming to damage my reputation,” on his own Instagram. Prikhodko has called Navalny a "political loser."
An American citizen in Thailand, Pavlo Yunko, who has been in contact with Vashukevich and Kirillov, posted on Facebook that he’d been told by an unnamed Thai official that their deportation from Thailand appeared to have been delayed following talks between American and Thai officials on Friday.
“It’s a fact that their deportation has been halted,” Yunko wrote.
The U.S. State Department said Monday it had no information on the matter.
On March 6, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the episode a “bizarre story,” and pointed out Vashukevich is not a U.S. citizen.
“I’m sure if there is anything of great interest that we need to be aware of that our Thai officials would inform us of that,” she said.
Cover image: Anastasia Vashukevich talks from inside a police transport vehicle at a detention center in Pattaya, south of Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, after being arrested Sunday in the Thai resort city of Pattaya while giving sex lessons to Russian tourists. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)