Two young women stride along a New York street, barely breaking step to flash smiles at the camera. One of them is slightly out of focus but her face – and the face of her friend – is unmistakable. Chillingly so.
The woman on the right is Russian bridge player Mila Antonova, the woman alleged this week to have been the former lover of billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates – as well as an associate and financial beneficiary of the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
What makes this photograph sensational, however, is the presence of the flame-haired woman on the left. She is none other than notorious Moscow spy Anna Chapman.
This week, a world exclusive investigation by the Daily Mail has uncovered a potentially disturbing and unexplained link between Gates’ erstwhile Russian ‘lover’ and Kremlin spook Chapman. While there is no evidence of any wrongdoing on Antonova’s part, it seems to be a connection which raises serious questions for Gates and, of course, for the California-based Russian herself.
Despite repeated approaches this week, it’s still not known whether the 67-year-old Microsoft boss had any knowledge of a potential link between Antonova and Chapman, the daughter of a former KGB officer.
Anna Chapman and Mila Antonova
Bill Gates is rumoured to have had an affair with Russian bridge player Ms Antonova
Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Gates and Boris Nikolic, who is said to have introduced Gates to Antonova
Last week, however, his spokeswoman admitted that paedophile Epstein, who was known to cultivate friendships with the ultra-wealthy in order to exploit them, had ‘tried unsuccessfully to leverage a past relationship’ to threaten Gates into doing his bidding.
At the time of his brief ‘relationship’ with Antonova, who is nearly 30 years his junior, father-of-three Gates was still married to his wife Melinda.
Registered sex offender Epstein wanted Gates to become an ‘anchor donor’ in a multi-billion dollar global charitable fund which he planned to set up, to camouflage his sordid private life, and increase his influence.
The pair had more than half a dozen meetings and Gates once flew on Epstein’s private jet, known as the ‘Lolita Express’. He has since said he regrets meeting with the disgraced financier who apparently killed himself in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
His spokeswoman has insisted any meetings were ‘solely for philanthropic purposes’. Gates ultimately declined to join Epstein’s charitable fund and the project did not go ahead.
Even so, the question remains; if Epstein knew about the alleged affair – and later made sure Gates knew he knew – did he also know of Antonova’s apparent links to Chapman?
Certainly, a relationship between Gates, one of the most influential businessmen on the planet, and a woman who appears to have connections to a Kremlin intelligence agent is troubling.
Anna Chapman also worked as a fashion model
Chapman, 41, was among a ring of Russian spies, all carrying out long-term, deep-cover assignments across the US. She moved to New York in 2009 from the UK where she had been issued with a UK passport after marrying a British man.
The FBI finally swooped on her and other Russian SVR (formerly KGB) intelligence agents in June 2010, after this photograph was taken in Manhattan. It captures a smug-looking Chapman gesturing with her hand towards the former Art Deco office block, a stone’s throw from Wall Street, where she kept a luxury two-bed apartment.
Her arrest came less than a year after the then 53-year-old Gates first met Antonova, in the somewhat unlikely setting of the North American Bridge Championship tournament in Washington DC in the summer of 2009.
Gates, now a technology adviser to Microsoft and one of its largest shareholders, is a well-known bridge devotee and a regular attendee at the thrice-annual NABC tournaments. Antonova, who’s believed to be 39, is also a keen player and has previously claimed that the card game, which she learnt at school in Russia, helped her focus on her studies.
A professional player who has played with Antonova, described her as an ‘intermediate player, like Gates’.
Speaking to the Mail, he added: ‘She was a nice young woman, very keen on bridge and smart. She certainly had an interest in the game and a drive to get better.’
The professional player added that the NABC tournaments were also ‘social events’.
As a Russian spy, Anna Chapman carried out deep-cover work across the United States
‘Many people have fun and enjoy meeting new people when they’re not playing. It’s a convivial atmosphere.’
It is not known exactly when their alleged affair began but in August 2009, just a few weeks after the Washington tournament held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Antonova appeared to be in a happy frame of mind when she tweeted that she was ‘going to bed and very excited about the future’.
Seven months later, in March 2010, the pair were seen together again at the NABC spring tournament in Reno, Nevada.
This week, the Mail discovered a video of Gates made by Antonova during the tournament for her Bridgeunion.com website. Speaking in heavily-accented Russian, she begins by asking him: ‘Who are you?’. The flirtatious smile he gives in return and her off-screen giggles seem to suggest they both find the question amusing.
A couple of months later, on June 9, 2010, Antonova boasted of her connection to Gates at an ‘Ignite NYC’ conference, at which speakers were allowed just five minutes on stage in front of New York’s ‘brightest geeks’ to share their chosen subject.
Giving her theme as ‘bridge is a powerful mind game’, she quoted the Hollywood star and acerbic wit, Mae West, who’d once famously quipped: ‘Good sex is like bridge: if you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a good hand.’ The actress had, she said, ‘found great connection between my two favourite things’.
A video of her confident performance shows the Russian, appearing much younger than her years, her dyed red hair plaited into girlish braids as she repeats that saucy Mae West quote on stage. She also name-drops Gates along with his close friend and sometime bridge partner, billionaire industrialist Warren Buffett, claiming the pair are ‘very avid players’ who’d ‘donated a million dollars to promote bridge at schools’.
It’s worth noting that in 2009 Antonova had set up her own, and now defunct, organisation – Bridge Union – to do just that – promote the game among deprived schoolchildren. It’s perhaps worth noting, too, that Anna Chapman also claimed to have worked for Buffett while living in New York.
During her speech, an image of Antonova and Gates appears on a screen beside her. She tells the audience: ‘Two years ago, I said, ‘Everyone, I’m going to meet this guy’,’ suggesting her meeting with the billionaire was premeditated.
She adds: ‘No-one believed me. Last year, I played against him at the same table at the National Bridge Tournament in Washington D.C. I didn’t beat him, but I tried to kick him with my leg.’
Bill and Melinda Gates were married for 27 years but split two years ago
Antonova also said that she came to New York in 2006 – although she didn’t say why or how – barely speaking English – and had supported herself when she arrived.
Little is known about her early life in Russia. She attended university between 2000 and 2005 and studied at the Togliatti Institute of Management on the banks of the river Volga in the Samara region, south-east of Moscow.
The institution claims its mission is to train students who have a ‘heightened sense of responsibility to their people and the state for the worthy future of the country’.
The Mail has also discovered that before her alleged affair with Gates, she had already forged an association with another wealthy, successful older man; award-winning film director Chad Gracia whose debut film, The Russian Woodpecker, won a prize in 2015 at the world-famous Sundance Film Festival.
In June 2009, a month before Antonova met Bill Gates, Gracia posted photographs on his Facebook page of Antonova in wetsuit, standing on Brighton Beach, a predominantly Russian enclave of New York.
Undated, posed professional photographs from a wedding in Brooklyn also include shots of Antonova sitting on Gracia’s knee, his arm around her waist. They appear in the background of another shot of the entire wedding party taken during the evening reception. Antonova appears to be on Gracia’s knee again. Ms Antonova and Mr Gracia were registered as living at the same address in New York and worked for the same company, public records show.
Mr Gracia was the founder of Tipzu, a company which allowed people to launch and manage e-commerce sites based on their hobbies or interests.
According to Ms Antonova’s LinkedIn profile, she was a bookkeeper there in 2008.
The company was based at a luxury apartment in Manhattan and Ms Antonova also lived at the same address, public records show.
Another old address for Ms Antonova was a Manhattan apartment which now costs $11,500 a month to rent.
Bill Gates is a dedicated bridge player and regularly attends tournaments
Based in Kyiv, before the Russian invasion, aside from his film and theatre work, and a cultural retreat which he owns near Chernobyl in Ukraine, he describes himself as a US registered securities broker who has worked with the Saudi royal family and raised more than $1.5billion for his clients.
On his company website, he also claims to have worked with US secret service agencies after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001. Gracia did not respond to email and phone messages from this newspaper this week.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he studied Russian literature and history, 53-year-old Gracia is currently finalising a film a called ‘Sex in the Soviet Union’, described as ‘a powerful examination of the roots of Russia’s toxic sexual culture that helps understand the current invasion of Ukraine.’
In a 2017 interview with a Ukrainian magazine, Gracia said he started to research his latest film after totally unsubstantiated rumours emerged of the existence of a Russian ‘kompromat’ sex tape featuring former US President Donald Trump in a Moscow hotel with several prostitutes.
‘I started to research could it be possible and I discovered that starting from the Sixties there was a serious large scale programme to find young boys and girls – ‘Swallows and Ravens’ they were called – and recruit them into the KGB. First they had to train them in sex,’ he said.
He detailed how recruits were taught using pornography: ‘They actually had these students watch people have sex and then they themselves had to have sex with other students or visiting army cadets.’
It is not known how long Gates’ alleged affair with Antonova lasted. It came to light following a leak of records to the Wall Street Journal..
Officials unravelling his complex finances and sex trafficking ring are focusing on wealthy individuals with whom the disgraced financier may have done business.
According to the WSJ, Epstein met Antonova in 2013 when she was looking for funding to start an online business teaching people how to play bridge. Documents seen by the WSJ are said to reveal they were introduced by Croatian-born Boris Nikolic, a Gates confidant and top science adviser.
They met at Epstein’s townhouse in November 2013 where Antonova set out her proposal, asking for $500,000 for her ‘BridgePlanet’ project. Documents seen by the WSJ show that Epstein gave feedback and in November 9, Antonova emailed him to thank him for the meeting. Ultimately he didn’t invest.
Anna Chapman on the catwalk at a fashion show in 2012
But the following year, in November 2014, Antonova stayed briefly at a New York apartment provided by Epstein. Last week she told the WSJ that she ‘didn’t interact with him or with anyone else while there.’
She added: ‘I had no idea that he was a criminal or had any ulterior motive. I just thought he was a successful businessman and wanted to help. I am disgusted with Epstein and what he did.’
After failing to secure funding for her BridgePlanet project, she said she decided to become a software programmer and asked several people, including Epstein, to lend her money for a US programming boot camp called Hack Reactor.
‘Epstein agreed to pay and he paid directly to the school,’ she told the WSJ. ‘Nothing was exchanged. I don’t know why he did that. When I asked, he said something like, he was wealthy and wanted to help people when he could.’
In 2017, years after Gates’ alleged relationship with Antonova had ended, Epstein allegedly emailed Gates asking him to reimburse him for the cost of her programming school fees.
Given that both men were billionaires, the sum involved was immaterial. According to the WSJ, ‘the tone of the message was that Epstein knew about the affair and could expose it.’
Attempts to contact Mr Nikolic for comment were unsuccessful. However he has previously said that he deeply regrets meeting Epstein, knew nothing about his sexual activities with young women and described his crimes as ‘despicable’.
He was named as the third executor of Epstein’s estate after his death in prison but refused to fulfil his duties saying he had known nothing about the businessman’s will and suspected his name was included as a retaliatory gesture against Gates.
Once regarded as the face of global philanthropy, Gates’s formerly geekish image has undergone something of a sea change in recent years.
Married to Melinda French Gates for 27 years, the couple made the shock announcement that they were splitting two years ago, allegedly over his infidelity and his association with Epstein.
In the wake of that announcement, came reports of a rather racier side to the tech tycoon. As a student, one biographer claimed, he was a frequent visitor to Boston’s notorious ‘Combat Zone’, an area famous for its many strip clubs, peep shows, X-rated cinemas and adult bookstores.
And during the early days of Microsoft, he was said to have hired dancers to come to his lakeside home and swim naked with his friends in his indoor pool.
It is not clear if 58-year-old Melinda knew of her husband’s alleged affair with Antonova when she divorced him. She later said in an interview that she warned Gates that Epstein was ‘evil personified’ but that her then husband still met with him.
In recent years Gates has attempted to minimise his ties to Epstein, saying that it was ‘a huge mistake to spend time with him’.
Whether or not he regrets his alleged affair with Antonova, is another matter entirely.
Their alleged relationship, Antonova’s links to Epstein and, above all, her apparent links to Anna Chapman, add another tangled layer to this whole sorry saga.
And at a time when Russia is at loggerheads with both the US and the UK, the connection will inevitably reignite concerns about attempts by Russian security services to infiltrate the ranks of the rich and powerful in the West.
I am Dilip Kumar Sharma, I associated with Elite News as an Editor, since 2021. I take care of all the news operations like content, budget, hiring and policy making.