Police in Argentina foiled a plot to smuggle cocaine of "maximum purity" from Argentina to Europe using the Russian embassy's diplomatic courier service. Five suspects were arrested in the scheme based out of the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires following a year-long sting which enlisted the assistance of a shadowy Russian spy chief.
Ensnared in the operation were an embassy accountant, an Argentine police officer, two Russian gang members, and a local Russian mechanic who transported the drugs.
Authorities discovered the plot in December 2016 after Russian ambassador Viktor Koronelli stumbled across 860 lbs. (389 kilos) of cocaine zipped inside 12 suitcases in a storage facility belonging to the diplomatic mission. Koronelli immediately informed Argentine authorities - who decided to keep the discovery secret while they set up an elaborate year-long sting.
After removing the cocaine worth roughly $61 million USD, and replacing it with flour, authorities placed tracking devices on the cases and conducted a joint monitoring operation with Russian authorities.
“At 3 am we had to send people from the border police to buy the 389 kilograms of flour to the central market [in Buenos Aires] because no one had 389 kilograms in a warehouse,” said Argentinian security minister, Patricia Bullrich. “The drugs never traveled to Russia. Only the flour traveled.”
The gang then left the dummy narcotics in the warehouse for almost a year, as the retirement of the conspiring embassy accountant had caused them to look for other routes. But after alternative options fell flat, the network returned to its original plan.
The former accountant, Ali Abyanov, was instructed to request his belongings be returned to Russia using the courier service, and, learning of the move, investigators prepared to pounce. -Telegraph
“This has been one of the most complex and extravagant drug-dealing operations that Argentina has faced,” Bullrich said.
The courier in this case was in fact a high level KGB agent named Nikolai Patrushev - the former head of the FSB who is believed to have authorized the 2006 London assassination of a FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko - who died after being poisoned with a lethal dose of polonium-210.
Patrushev paid a visit to the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires in December 2017 under the auspices of a visit to Argentine president Mauricio Macri, where the two signed memorandums of understanding in the Casa Rosada executive mansion.
Russian security services, acting on Patrushev's orders, arranged for the delivery of the "cocaine" requested by retired Embassy accountant Ali Abyanov to be transported on Patrushev's plane. Patrushev escorted the flour-filled suitcases to Moscow on December 9.
Four days later, two Russian gang members - Vladimir Kalmykov and Ishtimir Khudzamov, were arrested when they tried to pick up the suitcases. Abyanov was arrested at the same time.
The final act of the sting came with the Wednesday arrest of Buenos Aires police officer Ivan Blizniouk, and local mechanic of Russian nationality, Alexander Chikalo - who stands accused of transporting the bags to the airport.
The last piece of the puzzle is an ongoing hunt for the cocaine ring's alleged leader - known as "Señor K," a well-connected businessman believed to have been living in Germany for the past several years. Señor K arranged the drug runs under the guise of an alcoholic beverage import-export firm, and is believed to have arranged for two previously successful shipments to Russia through Uruguay.