The prostitution trial of a self-described "sex coach" who claims to have insider knowledge of Moscow's attempts to meddle in the US elections ended abruptly on Tuesday after she unexpectedly pleaded guilty.
Belarus-born Anastasia Vashukevich and the seven other defendants in the trial admitted to three charges, including soliciting prostitution and "forming and being a member of a secret society."
The trial had only begun in Thailand on Tuesday and was expected to last several days. The group had originally pleaded not guilty to the charges in August, local media reported .
Vashukevich made headlines last year when she publicly asked the United States to help free her from a Thai detention center in exchange for information on alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Vashukevich, who goes by the name Nastya Rybka on her social media accounts, was part of a group -- led by author and free sex advocate Alexander Kirillov -- which was arrested last February in the Thai resort town of Pattaya while running so-called sex training sessions.
Thai authorities accused the members of arranging paid sex for those who attended the sessions and charged Vashukevich, Kirillov and six other co-defendents with prostitution and criminal conspiracy in April.
Wearing prison uniforms, all eight defendants appeared at the Pattaya court on Tuesday.
Even as early as the morning of the trial, the eight defendants were proclaiming their innocence, but in the afternoon the group unexpectedly decided to change their plea.
Because it was their first offense and due to their decision to plead guilty, Chief Judge Kasem Supasit sentenced the eight defendants to 18 months in jail.
They had already spent nine months in prison, so the judge released the defendants to serve their sentences on parole. He also waived a fine of $3,135 (100,000 baht) due to time served.
In July indictment papers, prosecutors had said that if found guilty, the group could face up to 10 years in prison.
Col. Apichai Krobpetch, chief of the Pattaya Police, previously told CNN that Vashukevich had been charged after an individual came forward with evidence against her and other members of the group.
Claims of insider knowledge
Vashukevich claims to be the former mistress of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, an ex-business associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
She told CNN from the detention center last March that she witnessed several meetings in 2016 and 2017 between Deripaska and at least three unnamed Americans. She refused to name them but said she had photographs of one of the Americans and more than an hour of audio recordings.
Vashukevich and Kirillov told CNN they were afraid to reveal potentially compromising information in the event they are deported to Russia, where they are believed to have been previously based.
Deripaska -- who denies any affair -- is a subject of political intrigue in US political circles, owing to his links with Manafort. The aluminum baron has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and was recently included on a US Treasury Department list of Russian government officials and 96 oligarchs with a net worth of $1 billion or more.
When he was confronted by CNN in 2017, Deripaska called allegations that he may have been a back channel from the Kremlin to the Trump campaign "fake news."
Regarding his alleged relationship with Vashukevich, a representative for Deripaska told CNN last March: "This is clearly an attempt by Anastasia Vashukevich (aka Nastya Rybka) to politicize the accusations of the Thai police. There have been endless fictitious stories told by her, all serving to distract the public from real violations, including very serious breaches of law of many countries."