On a chilly December afternoon on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, an attractive brunette hurries from Jeffrey Epstein’s now infamous mansion and loads her luggage into the back of a waiting taxi.
While far from an unusual occurrence – witnesses have spoken of a ‘revolving door’ of young women entering and leaving the depraved millionaire’s home – the identity of this particular house guest presents an intriguing mystery, not least because Prince Andrew was inside the mansion at the time the photograph was taken. A tag on her suitcase suggests she is Svetlana Pozhidaeva, a former Russian model whose father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Red Army and who herself attended a Moscow university once described as an ‘incubator’ for the KGB. She later joined a model agency run by Jean-Luc Brunel, who has been accused of procuring young women for Epstein.
Such is the scandal’s toxicity that almost everyone in Epstein’s orbit is running for cover and Ms Pozhidaeva, who now heads a women’s charity, is no exception.
Quite simply, she denies she is the woman caught on camera leaving his house on December 7, 2010, though even close relatives note the striking resemblance.
Svetlana Pozhidaeva in an undated photograph in Moscow, Russia. Ms Pozhidaeva is a former Russian model whose father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Red Army and who herself attended a Moscow university
What Ms Pozhidaeva does acknowledge, however, is a long association with Epstein, of whom she once thought highly and who helped bankroll her entry into the charity world (though sources say she has now returned the money) and that she was pictured eating an avocado outside his house in 2016.
Sources close to Ms Pozhidaeva, known as Lana to friends, last night stressed that she does not know the Duke and has ‘never talked to him’. Curiously, however, one said: ‘You can ask him [about Ms Pozhidaeva] and most likely he’d say the same thing, I think.’
It is indeed understood that Prince Andrew, who spent at least six days at Epstein’s Manhattan home in December 2010, has no memory of a woman called Svetlana Pozhidaeva. He has repeatedly denied any inappropriate behaviour and insisted that ‘at no stage during the limited time I spent with him [Epstein] did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction’.
No memory of meeting: Prince Andrew in Epstein’s mansion in Manhattan’s Upper East Side in 2010
As The Mail on Sunday revealed last month, the Prince was caught on camera on December 6, 2010, standing in the doorway of Epstein’s mansion cheerily waving off Katherine Keating, the daughter of the former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating. Less than 24 hours later – at 2.07pm – ‘Svetlana’ left with her suitcase.
Meanwhile, a close relative of Ms Pozhidaeva, now 35, said of Epstein: ‘Yes, of course we know him. In our family, between ourselves, we call him “Friend” to avoid calling him by his name.’
There is no evidence that Ms Pozhidaeva was one of Epstein’s victims. Sources insist her relationship with him was founded on a shared interest in charitable endeavours.
Nevertheless there is something – or rather someone – that threatens to drag her further into the affair: both she and Epstein are linked to Jean-Luc Brunel.
Four years ago Brunel, now in his 70s, was named in a civil lawsuit in which he was accused of procuring young girls for the financier, something he denies.
Flying visit: A woman resembling Ms Pozhidaeva leaving the depraved millionaire’s mansion on December 7, 2010, with her Aeroflot flight tag visible. Ms Pozhidaeva denies she is the woman caught on camera leaving his house, though even close relatives note the striking resemblance
In a photograph that emerged last week, Brunel is shown cuddling up to crooked tycoon Robert Maxwell’s daughter, Ghislaine, who has been similarly accused of recruiting teenage girls to Epstein’s child prostitution ring. She too denies the claims. Before her charity career took off, Ms Pozhidaeva was signed to Brunel’s model agency MC2. One of the damaging claims facing Brunel is that young East European girls were brought by MC2 to the US on Epstein’s private jet. However, the suitcase tag in the back of the taxi on December 7, 2010, shows a Ms Pozhidaeva arriving in New York on an Aeroflot flight on November 19 that year.
How Ms Pozhidaeva and Epstein met is unclear but, according to a source, the financier was soon providing her with an opportunity to study and to ‘attend conferences with scientists’.
‘What she liked was that he donated a lot to science and helped many researchers and interesting people,’ the source added.
Ms Pozhidaeva, meanwhile, has rather an interesting background herself. She was raised in Moscow in a flat in a 1950s apartment block built for staffers of the NKVD, the Stalinist predecessor of the KGB. With its peeling paint and nondescript exterior, it could not contrast more sharply with Epstein’s lavish home which, he once bragged, was one of the largest private houses in Manhattan.
An Aeroflot flight tag visible on the woman’s suitcase suggesting it belongs to former Russian model Svetlana Pozhidaeva
Intriguingly, although she has been featured in prestigious Forbes magazine for her charitable work, Ms Pozhidaeva does not appear on any publicly available database in the US.
Educated at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, known as a training ground for Russian diplomats and spies, she is the daughter of Yury Pozhidaev, 61, who rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian Army before retiring to enter the business world.
Her grandfather, who died in 1999, is buried in the family vault in Russia’s most prestigious graveyard, Novodevichy, in Moscow.
Svetlana Pozhidaeva eating an avocado as she walks outside Epstein’s New York house
It is unclear how Ms Pozhidaeva went from being a visitor to Epstein’s mansion to founding a charity using his money which, it appears, guaranteed her admission into New York society.
In an 2018 interview, she admitted in faltering English: ‘I was refused a tourist visa to New York without explaining the reasons. I simply came to the consulate and they said “No”. Eventually I managed to move here with a modelling visa… When someone tells me I’m crazy, I consider it a compliment because the worst thing is to be regular and boring. I’ve started making money quite fast which also rarely happens in modelling.’
She founded a charity called WE Talks (Women’s Empowerment) in December 2017 and is president of another New York-based charity, Education Advance, which reportedly received more than £40,000 from Epstein – a sum it is understood she has now returned.
Her charity lists her contact address as East 66th Street – a building owned by Epstein and registered in his brother Mark’s name. He was named sole heir to Epstein’s fortune in the paedophile’s will written two weeks before he committed suicide on August 10 by hanging himself inside the Manhattan Correctional Centre.
Modelling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, 72, pictured on Australia’s Next Top Model, in 2008. Jean-Luc Brunel has been accused of procuring young women for Epstein
Ms Pozhidaeva’s charity website – which has recently been taken down – says she came to the US on a modelling visa and took an online course in accounting and business management at Harvard University.
In the Forbes interview about her charity work, she said: ‘I firmly believe that risk-taking is in my DNA. I grew up playing tennis, competing on a high-level junior circuit in my country and simply couldn’t envision a predictable and “normal” life in Moscow.
‘I come from a very patriarchal society in which women are encouraged to study and meet their future husband in their early 20s, after which they are expected to marry and take care of home.’
Intriguingly, Ms Pozhidaeva shares a lawyer, Darren Indyke, with Epstein.
He declined to comment.
A man called Pendleton King, who claimed he was Ms Pozhidaeva’s boyfriend, has said she knew ‘very little’ about Epstein when she accepted his sizeable donation to her charity, adding: ‘She’s never been involved in anything shady. The money went to something positive.’
For now, Ms Pozhidaeva is herself declining to discuss her high-profile connections.
Doubtless, there will be some who fervently wish that continues.