Russia on Thursday detained a Belarusian model who once claimed she had evidence of Russian efforts to help Donald Trump win office, witnesses told AFP.
Anastasia Vashukevich, known by her pen name, Nastya Rybka, was held for questioning at a Moscow airport after she was deported from Thailand as part of a group convicted of participating in a "sex training course," other passengers on the flight told AFP.
Russian authorities detained her and several others, including Alex Kirillov, a self-styled Russian seduction guru, witnesses said.
Plainclothes officials led away four members of the group, including Vashukevich and Kirillov, a woman who gave her name as Kristina told AFP after emerging at Sheremetyevo airport.
Describing herself as Kirillov's wife, Kristina said she heard the group shouting and asking for an explanation of "why they were being detained."
A law enforcement source told the TASS state news agency that Vashukevich, Kirillov and two others had been detained at the airport for questioning regarding recruitment for prostitution, a crime punishable by up to six years in jail.
In a case that veered between salacious and bizarre, Vashukevich said she had traveled to Thailand after becoming embroiled in a political scandal with Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska, a onetime associate of Trump's disgraced former campaign director, Paul Manafort.
She then set tongues wagging by promising to reveal "missing puzzle pieces" regarding claims the Kremlin aided Trump's 2016 presidential election victory. But the material never surfaced and critics dismissed the claims as a publicity stunt.
Vashukevich was held with several others in a police raid last February in the seaside resort of Pattaya, Thailand. In a risque seminar there, led by Kirillov, some participants wore shirts that said "sex animator" — though one person at the time described it as more of a romance-and-relationship course.
Vashukevich pleaded guilty alongside seven others to multiple charges, including solicitation and illegal assembly, at a Pattaya court on Tuesday, which ordered that the group be deported.
Kirillov, who has served as a quasi-spokesman for the mostly Russian group, told reporters as they arrived at that court Tuesday that he believed they had been set up.
"I think somebody ordered [our arrest] ... for money," he said.
Vashukevich looked somber as she entered the courthouse and did not respond to questions from reporters.
Blacklisted in Thailand
On Thursday afternoon, Vashukevich and the majority of the convicted were put on an Aeroflot flight for Moscow. Thailand's immigration chief, Surachate Hakparn, said the last of the group would leave the country later in the evening.
They were also blacklisted from returning to Thailand.
It was unclear what would happen to them upon arrival in Moscow, but as a Belarusian citizen, Vashukevich was expected to transit to Belarus.
Vashukevich, who has more than 120,000 followers on Instagram and penned a book about seducing oligarchs, already faces legal problems in Russia.
Deripaska won an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against her and Kirillov in July after a video apparently filmed by the model showed the tycoon vacationing with an influential Russian deputy prime minister at the time.
"I don't think she wants to get out [of the plane] in Moscow," a Russian friend in Thailand who helped with the case told AFP on Thursday.
Both Washington and Moscow publicly shrugged off Vashukevich's story, which the U.S. State Department described as "bizarre."
Kremlin-connected Deripaska and Manafort, Trump's ex-campaign manager, did business together in the mid-2000s. Manafort has since been convicted in the U.S. of financial crimes related to political work he did in Ukraine before the 2016 election, as well as witness tampering.