Apparent Bribe Tape Used to Smear Russian Liberals

In a video that appeared online this week, a skinny young man with brown hair sat on a couch next to a half-naked woman lying down with her face blurred out. He leaned over a stool, snorted a few lines of white powder and sat back up. The video then cut to the same man getting dressed, presumably after sex with the woman with the blurred-out face.

The hidden-camera clip has been making waves in Russia, where the man, Mikhail Fishman, is well-known as the editor of Newsweek magazine's Russian edition.

A few days prior, Fishman appeared in another Internet video along with two other men, opposition activist Ilya Yashin and liberal political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.

In that hidden-camera clip, the three were shown separately getting pulled over by the police. One by one, the same scenario played out: With careful editing, the men appeared to offer the police a bribe to extricate themselves. Each time, the police reprimanded the men for trying to buy their way out of trouble. Two of the men said the exchanges were doctored.

It is unknown who produced the videos. But the three men are part of Russia's liberal establishment with plenty of opponents in the country's ruling power structure, and that's who they suspect.

"It's absolutely clear that it cannot be done without special knowledge and special responsibilities," Fishman told ABC News, refusing to name which branch of government he believes is behind the tapes. "I know that they wear a uniform."

Yashin agreed that the authorities were behind it, writing on his blog that the attempted slander is "an ordinary provocation by the security forces."

Moscow's traffic police denied any involvement with the videos. The Federal Security Services refused to comment.

Videos Coincide With Street Demonstrations

The videos appeared on the Internet but were also posted on the Web sites of Nashi and Young Guard, nationalist youth organizations closely aligned with the Kremlin and the ruling United Russia party. They also denied any involvement.

A Young Guard spokesman told ABC News the group posted the videos because of their news value.

Andrey Soldatov, a security analyst, said he suspects that state authorities are connected because the videos showed the men sitting in police cars. But he is confused by the targets.

"I don't understand the message. It's stupid to do it against a journalist," he said. "These dirty techniques work against state officials, people who are elected."

The video of Yashin with the police was shot in September, he told the Moscow Times.

Fishman said both videos of him were shot several years ago and is unsure what else might be out there.

"I don't know about other videos, I don't know about what other parts of my private life were totally illegally watched," he said angrily.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said he believes they were released now because of a series of recent political protests in Russia, including last weekend's nationwide "Day of Wrath" that drew thousands of demonstrators into the streets.

"The fact that it became public now, it means the authorities are pretty careful with regards to social protests," Petrov said. "Either they're sending signals to everybody or they somehow put pressure on these guys and are showing that something bad can happen."

After the video of Fishman with the woman (entitled "Liar 2") appeared, Yashin wrote on his blog that the same scenario had played out with him in the same apartment, with the same girl a year and a half ago.

"I immediately recognized the apartment," he blogged. "I was there, too, in similar circumstances."

He went on to say how he met a model named Katya Gerasimova, nicknamed "Mumu," who he then started dating. She called him one night, saying she had a surprise. It turned out to be a second girl and they wanted to have a threesome.

More Videos on the Way?

"I'd be lying if I said I resisted," he wrote.

He said he grew suspicious when Mumu pulled out several sex toys, asking her if she had hidden a camera.

When she pulled out some cocaine and said, "You need to relax, dear. You're very tense," Yashin said he knew it was a trap and left.

He said he believes a video of him, like Fishman's, could come out in the near future.

Roman Dobrokhotov, a colleague from Yashin's opposition group, Solidarity, said on his blog that Mumu had tried to frame him as well, inviting him over and then trying to convince him to roll a joint because, "I don't really know how to."

Dobrokhotov said that when she pressed him, he left.

The first video released of the men in the police cars start with recordings of phone calls to Fishman, Yashin and Oreshkin. They're asked if they have ever bribed the police. Fishman and Oreshkin admit they have, Yashin said he tries to "convince police officers with words."

Then it shows each of the three men getting pulled over and getting in the passenger seat of the police car. Oreshkin apparently tries to bribe the police with about $230. Fishman and Yashin both deny trying to bribe their way out, claiming the video was edited to look like they were.

The videos appear to have failed in their purported mission. Russians almost universally consider the police to be corrupt and are used to being coerced into paying bribes. Fishman has kept his job at Newsweek, and he vows nothing will change with its editorial direction but calls the saga "a very serious matter."

"We are independent journalists working in Russia," he said. "We are not tied with any party or any public figures or bureaucrats, we just write about them. We're not the only media outlet doing this. All of them now got this message."

Fishman didn't break the law by using drugs in the video and would not comment on it. He said his legal team is investigating the tapes.

Not the First 'Honey Trap' Episode

The Fishman saga has the same overtones as two other "honey trap" episodes from last summer.

In the first, a British diplomat was caught on camera having sex with two prostitutes. He resigned his post and went home.

The second was a Web video that surfaced accusing a Moscow-based U.S. diplomat also of having sex with a prostitute. But the sex scene was shot in the dark and it was impossible to tell if it was indeed the official, Kyle Hatcher.

U.S. ambassador John Beyrle vigorously defended Hatcher, telling ABC News at the time that the video included fake clips meant to smear Hatcher. He blamed it on "elements" in the Russian government. Hatcher continues to work at the embassy in Moscow.

Thirteen editors of prominent publications have put out a statement calling the slander of Fishman a "planned and well-organized provocation.

"This situation is unacceptable for our country, in which the freedom of speech, press and privacy are constitutionally guaranteed," the statement read.

Others are taking the situation less seriously. Dobrokhotov, Yashin's fellow activist, posted pictures of Mumu on his blog and wrote below them, "Join the ranks of the opposition! Free luxury models with cocaine are waiting for you!"