'Shame on me!' Swank says sorry for her six-figure Chechen payday

On primetime TV, actress tells all about why she appeared at Kadyrov's birthday

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The Independent US

It took her a couple of months, but Hilary Swank has finally cottoned-on to what the rest of the world was thinking about her decision to accept a six-figure sum to appear at the 35th birthday celebrations of Chechnya's autocratic dictator, Ramzan Kadyrov.

"Shame on me!" the Oscar-winning actress said, in a very public mea culpa for her role in the PR debacle. "The bottom line is that I should know where I'm going, and do better research. I can guarantee that I won't go anywhere ever again without doing full research."

Swank, 37, issued the apology on Jay Leno's US chat show at the weekend, hoping to end the controversy which erupted in October when YouTube footage emerged of her standing on a public stage in central Grozny, beaming at the Moscow-backed warlord, and declaring: "Happy Birthday, Mr President!"

Human rights groups were hugely angered by the affair, since they had only days earlier written to Swank's management outlining Mr Kadyrov's appalling credentials. In response, they were told that the actress had "no plans to attend".

That of course turned out to be untrue. In a scandal which shed light on the lucrative Hollywood tradition of "paid appearances" in which stars quietly accept fees to attend private parties, Swank was filmed there alongside the singer Seal, the actor Jean-Claude Van Damme and the violinist Vanessa Mae.

Explaining herself in public for the first time, Swank told Leno she had no idea the event would prove controversial, and had "never heard" of Mr Kadyrov's track record beforehand. Her fee was paid by a Turkish construction company which claimed the bash would "celebrate peace" in the previously war-torn country. Swank has pledged to donate her appearance fee to a good cause – although no charity has yet confirmed receipt of it.

In a comment mysteriously edited by NBC from the online version of the Leno interview, she said that prior to her October trip, "I didn't even know that Chechnya was separate from Russia".

As critics have pointed out, Chechnya isn't separate from Russia. Two brutal wars in the past 20 years have kept the territory part of Russia. Militias under the control of Mr Kadyrov – a former rebel who switched sides – have been implicated in widespread allegations of torture and rights abuse.