- By Megha Mohan and Fay Nurse
- BBC World Service
When Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler was released in February 2022, Simon Leviev’s girlfriend stood by him. Now she says she felt she had no choice, as she was under his emotional control.
A young blonde woman sits on the edge of a bed, cradling her left foot with her left hand as she talks into her phone. Some of her hair sticks to her face, which is wet with tears.
You see a cut on his heel. Her eyes are bloodshot and her face flushed, but her voice is clear as she gives the person on the other end of the phone line directions to the apartment. In front of her, an open and packed suitcase lies on the floor.
We watch a video filmed on the phone on the night of March 29, 2022. The man filming raises his voice to say: “That’s bullshit! Nothing happened to him!”
The man is Simon Leviev, the convicted con man and subject of the Netflix documentary, The Tinder Swindler. The woman is 23-year-old Israeli model Kate Konlin, who was his girlfriend at the time.
Leviev sent the video to the BBC along with other videos and documents about their relationship.
“She lies and she lies,” he wrote.
“Of course he would call me a liar,” Kate Konlin told the BBC.
“He called every woman who spoke out against him a liar. He doesn’t want me to tell my story of emotional abuse.”
At first, Ms. Konlin’s friends adored Leviev.
“Kate, he’s too perfect,” she recalled, exclaiming, “it’s even a little scary.”
Shimon Heyada Hayut (who legally changed his name to Simon Leviev), snuck into his Instagram DMs in 2020, and within weeks they were together.
“At first our relationship was a love bomb,” Ms Konlin told the BBC. “He was obsessed with me.”
Leviev accompanied her to modeling shoots and waited while she worked. He cleaned her house and sent long, loving voice notes to her.
It was intense but at 23 it was what she thought love should be, she says.
But after a while the fighting started.
Ms Konlin says that when he criticized her appearance, clothes, weight and skin (she has acne breakouts), she began to lose confidence. She wasn’t sure what he would say next.
“I felt like I was walking on eggshells,” she says.
She saw her friends less and less during the 18 months they were together, and when she did, they said she was no longer the lively, colorful and sociable person they had once known.
“They said I was ‘grey,'” she said looking down at her hands.
After a few months, Leviev began asking for money, borrowing thousands of dollars at a time, up to a total, according to Konlin, of $150,000. She was already an international model who had appeared on the covers of Vogue Japan, Grazia Italy and Wallpaper magazine in the UK. She was financially secure and she says he knew it.
Ms Konlin sent the BBC more than a dozen voice notes from Leviev. He often shouts and asks for loans saying his own money is tied up in investments.
In one, he yells as he explains why he can’t pay her back: “Kate, I’m a millionaire!” And it is a fact. Right now, I’m stuck. your fucked up brain? Your bird brain. I’m stuck, Kate. I didn’t steal from you. You gave it to me of your own free will. You lent it to me. I’m stuck, that’s all.”
The Tinder Swindler, which became Netflix’s most-watched documentary in 90 countries when it was released in February 2022, alleged that Simon Leviev defrauded women he met on the dating app Tinder out of around 10 million of dollars. He denies the allegations.
Ms. Konlin says she watched him as she sat next to him on the couch.
“I knew it was all true,” she says.
But she says she felt compelled to accept his version of events. According to her, it was a relationship of control and it was easy for him to persuade her to defend him publicly, for example in the American program Inside Edition.
“He said to me, ‘If you defend me, people will believe me, because you are a woman.'”
At the same time, her Instagram inbox was filled with insults sent by people who had seen snaps of her at the end of the Tinder Swindler.
“People told me they wished I got cancer or got hit by a car, and that I deserved the worst of it all because I was in a relationship with him,” Ms Konlin said.
The disputes between the couple escalate and on March 29, everything gets carried away.
“I said, ‘That’s it, I’m leaving. I can’t take it anymore.’ I started to put my stuff away,” she says.
Ms. Konlin says the argument got physical. She says he pushed her and she cut her foot on a step with a rough edge.
“I was bleeding. I felt dead. I wanted to kill myself,” she says.
This ended the fight. It was then that Leviev filmed Ms Konlin as she called an ambulance and shouted that nothing had happened to her.
After going to the hospital, she filed a complaint against Leviev with the police.
When we asked Leviev to respond, he sent us nine emails within 45 minutes, and two more direct messages to the video-sharing app, Cameo, in the days that followed.
There were numerous screenshots of WhatsApp messages and a video which shows Ms Konlin screaming and grabbing him.
Leviev says he has never physically harmed any woman.
Janey Starling, a domestic violence campaigner, said the image Ms Konlin paints of her relationship with Leviev follows a familiar pattern.
“Coercive control is something that happens daily and is very commonplace. It’s very small. It flies under the radar,” she says.
“Many abusive men have never been physically abusive to their partners…but they have been intensely controlling, intensely critical, belittling, and threatening.
“It’s a bit of a red herring to see physical abuse as the ultimate determination of whether an abusive relationship is abusive.”
We put Leviev to several allegations of Ms. Konlin’s behavior, including that he had coercively controlled her, and he said she was lying.
Despite being a convicted con artist, Leviev has thousands of social media followers. He continues to post videos of himself driving expensive cars and hanging out with beautiful women. In some videos, people ask for photos with him, like he’s a celebrity. It charges £82 ($100) for a personalized video message and £165 for a call.
Its popularity concerns the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
“We are seeing a glamorization of a hyper-masculine anti-woman mindset and lifestyle, and that is being sold to the most acceptable and impressionable people, especially young men in their pre-teen years. -adolescent girls,” said Jessica Reaves, editorial director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism.
“It’s incredibly dangerous because what you’re saying is, ‘You can have that lifestyle too and also, by the way, some of that dehumanizes or generally hates women.
We asked Leviev if he accepted this description from his social media posts and he did not respond.
Today Ms Konlin laughs as she may be one of the only models in the world who is happy to have gained weight – she says she was underweight due to stress during her stay at Leviev.
After almost a year without a job offer following the release of The Tinder Swindler, her modeling career has resumed. She now wants to tell young women what an unhappy and internally controlling relationship can look like.
“If a woman who is in the same situation sees what I went through and how I got out of it, and that today I am stronger and more beautiful than when I was with him, she will see, hopefully she can leave too.”
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