Published1 day ago
When Netflix’s documentary, the Tinder Swindler, came out in February 2022, Simon Leviev’s girlfriend stood by him. Now she says she felt she had no choice, because she was under his emotional control.
A young blonde woman is sitting on the edge of a bed cradling her left foot with her left hand as she speaks into her phone. Some of her hair sticks to her face, which is wet from tears.
You see a cut on her heel. Her eyes are bloodshot and her face red, 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 are watching a video filmed on a phone from the night of 29 March 2022. The man filming the video raises his voice to say: “It’s bullshit! Nothing’s happened to her!”
The man is Simon Leviev, the convicted con artist and subject of the Netflix documentary, The Tinder Swindler. The woman is 23-year-old Israeli model Kate Konlin, who was then his girlfriend.
Leviev sent the video to the BBC with other videos and documents about their relationship.
“She lies and she lies,” he wrote.
“Of course he’d call me a liar,” Kate Konlin tells the BBC.
“He’s called every woman who has spoken out against him a liar. He doesn’t want me to tell my story of emotional abuse.”
In the beginning, Ms Konlin’s friends adored Leviev.
“Kate, he’s too perfect,” she recalls them gushing, “it’s even a little scary.”
Shimon Heyada Hayut (who legally changed his name to Simon Leviev), slipped into her Instagram DMs in 2020, and within weeks they were together.
“At first, our relationship was a love bomb,” Ms Konlin tells the BBC. “He was obsessed with me.”
Leviev accompanied her to modelling shoots and waited while she worked. He cleaned her home and sent her long and loving voicenotes.
It was intense but as a 23-year-old, it was what she thought love should be, she says.
But after a while, the fights started.
Ms Konlin says that when he criticised her appearance, clothes, her weight and her skin (she experiences bouts of acne), she began to lose confidence. She wasn’t sure what he would say next.
“I felt 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, colourful and sociable person they had once known.
“They said I was ‘grey’,” she says, looking down at her hands.
After a few months, Leviev began to ask for money, borrowing thousands of dollars at a time, up to a total, Ms Konlin says, of $150,000. She was already an international model who had been on the cover of Vogue Japan, Grazia Italy and Wallpaper magazine in the UK. She was financially secure and she says he knew it.
Ms Konlin has sent the BBC more than a dozen of Leviev’s voicenotes. He often shouts, and asks for loans saying that his own money is tied up in investments.
In one, he shouts as he explains why he cannot pay her back: “Kate, I’m a millionaire! And that’s a fact. At the moment, I’m stuck. Understand? I’m stuck! Do you understand that in your screwed-up brain? That bird brain of yours. 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 had conned women he met on the Tinder dating app out of about $10m. He denies the allegations.
Ms Konlin says she watched it while sitting next to him on the sofa.
“I knew it was all true,” she says.
But she says she felt obliged to accept his version of events. According to her, it was a controlling relationship, and it was easy for him to persuade her to defend him publicly, for example on US news show Inside Edition.
“He told me, ‘If you stick up for me, people will believe me, because you are a woman.'”
At the same time, her Instagram inbox filled with abuse sent by people who had seen shots of her at the end of the Tinder Swindler.
“People told me they wished that I would get cancer or be run over by a car, and that I deserved the worst of everything because I was in a relationship with him,” Ms Konlin says.
The arguments between the couple intensified and on 29 March everything came to a head.
“I said, ‘That’s it, I’m leaving. I can’t take it any more.’ I started packing my stuff,” she says.
Ms Konlin says the argument turned 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 brought the fight to a halt. It was then that Leviev filmed Ms Konlin as she called an ambulance, and shouted out that nothing had happened to her.
After going to 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 on the video-sharing app, Cameo, in the days that followed.
There were many screenshots of WhatsApp messages and a video which shows Ms Konlin shouting and grabbing him.
Leviev says he has never physically harmed any woman.
Janey Starling, a campaigner against domestic abuse, says the picture Ms Konlin paints of her relationship with Leviev follows a familiar pattern.
“Coercive control is something that happens on a daily basis and is very mundane. It’s very small. It flies under the radar,” she says.
“A lot of abusive men have never been physically violent to their partners… but they have been intensely controlling, intensely critical, belittling, and making threats.
“It’s a bit of a red herring to look for physical violence as the ultimate determination of whether an abusive relationship is abusive.”
We put to Leviev several allegations Ms Konlin made about his behaviour, including that he had coercively controlled her, and he said she was lying.
Despite being a convicted con artist, Leviev has thousands of followers on social media. He continues to post videos of himself driving expensive cars, and spending time with beautiful women. In some videos people ask for photographs with him, as if he were a celebrity. He charges £82 ($100) for a personalised video message and £165 for a call.
His popularity concerns the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
“We are seeing a glamorisation of a hyper-masculine anti-woman mindset and lifestyle, and it is being peddled to the most acceptable, most impressionable people, especially young men in their pre-teen years,” says Jessica Reaves, editorial director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism.
“It’s incredibly dangerous because what you’re saying is, ‘You can have this lifestyle too and also, by the way, part and parcel of this is dehumanising, or generally hating women’.”
We asked Leviev if he accepted this description of his posts on social media and he didn’t respond.
Today, Ms Konlin laughs that she is perhaps one of the only models in the world who is happy to have gained weight – she says she was underweight from stress during her time with Leviev.
After almost a year without offers of work following the release of The Tinder Swindler, her modelling career has taken off again. She now wants to tell young women what an unhappy and controlling relationship can look like from the inside.
“If a woman who is in the same situation sees what I experienced and how I got out, and that today I am stronger and more beautiful than when I was with him, she will hopefully see that she can also leave.”
If you have been affected by issues in this story, you can find sources of support on the BBC Action Line