Instagram has found itself dragged into a scandal about bribery, corruption and prostitution at the highest echelons of Russian society after banning an online exposé by a leading anti-Putin politician.
The social network yanked a 25-minute “investigation” fronted by Alexei Navalny and his Progress Party after a Russian court ruled in favour of the oligarch in the video, and ordered it to be removed.
YouTube, which also hosted the video, has taken a different approach, and has yet to remove the footage from the internet.
The video itself is a lengthy dissection by Navalny of evidence which he claims is proof of bribery between rich businessmen and senior policymakers in Moscow, improbably brought to light by a Russian escort with a penchant for sharing her glamorous escapades.
Scroll down to see exactly what it’s about.
This is Alexei Navalny, Putin’s biggest domestic critic. He’s been banned from running against Putin in the upcoming presidential election, and is campaigning for a mass boycott.
Navalny’s application to stand against Putin was turned down by Russian election authorities last year.
They cited a past fraud conviction as grounds for disqualification. Navalny and his allies say that the conviction was politically motivated, and used to keep him out of politics.
He continues to campaign against Putin and corruption in Russian public life – and one of his favourite methods is slick, highly-produced social media videos.
Navalny alleges that the corruption he discovered started with a gang of provocatively-dressed pro-Kremlin women sent to his party HQ as a hostile publicity stunt.
They can be seen interacting with staff, and posed outside for conveniently-placed TV news cameras from a pro-Putin channel.
Navalny highlighted other odd stunts, including, apparently, the same group staging a pro-Harvey Weinstein vigil outside the US embassy in Moscow.
Navalny’s staff examined the videos, which include women like the one below, who calls herself “Nastya Rybka” and says she is a seducer of oligarchs.
She’s appeared on Russian TV talking about her exploits, and has a book out as well, titled “Diary of How I Seduced a Billionaire.”
On Rybka’s social media pages, she posted photos of herself with Oleg Deripaska, a yacht-owning oligarch.
She got more than one shot with him.
Here she is working out with Deripaska.
Navalny claims she also inadvertently published footage showing Deripaska on board his yacht with Sergey Prikhodko, a longstanding figure in Russian politics with close ties to Putin and influence over Russian foreign policy.
Here is a better shot of the pair together. Prikhodko is a deputy prime minister in Putin’s cabinet.
Navalny claims that if Prikhodko received a free trip on the boat it would technically be a bribe, especially combined with the presence of Rybka, whom he implies is a paid escort.
He also highlights Prikhodko’s large house outside Moscow, which he says is much too big for a lifelong civil servant to be able to afford and maintain.
He goes through a painstaking verification process, including flight records, photo analysis and cross-references with Rybka’s book to identify the boat.
He says the photos support his claim that the two men were at sea together on the same boat with Rybka — potentially striking deals relating to the running of Russia’s government.
Deripaska launched a legal case after Navalny published, claiming that the videos he used were a breach of his privacy. A Russian court found in his favour.
Instagram complied, and removed posts from its service at the request of Russia’s media regulator.
In a statement to CNBC, a spokesman said: “When governments believe that something on the internet violates their laws, they may contact companies and ask us to restrict access to that content.
“We review such requests carefully in light of local laws and where appropriate, we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory.”
Google, which runs YouTube, has so far not followed suit. They have also declined to comment.
Here’s the entirety of video Instagram banned, and YouTube kept up. It’s 25 minutes long and in Russian, though it does have English subtitles.
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