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The Russian embassy's drug smuggling operation in Argentina could go back almost six years


Say hello to Ali Abyanov. The Russian police certainly are. Abyanov is the former embassy employee arrested in Moscow last month for putting 12 suitcases packed with hundreds of pounds of cocaine inside a school-housing complex attached to Russia’s embassy in Buenos Aires.

According to the newspaper Kommersant, Abyanov says he’d been transporting bags like this for a man named Andrey Kovalchuk since 2012, earning roughly $1,000 per suitcase. Kovalchuk, who lives in Germany and was arrested on March 1, allegedly asked Abyanov to send his bags to Moscow as diplomatic mail. Abyanov says he thought he was helping him smuggle “wine, coffee, and semiprecious stones,” not cocaine.

When his job at the Argentinian embassy wrapped up in 2016, Abyanov left Kovalchuk’s last bags at the embassy’s school. Kovalchuk allegedly tried to reach a similar arrangement with Abyanov’s replacement, but the new guy opened the bags, instead, and discovered all the drugs.

The Russian government’s role here.

Kovalchuk says he worked as a “technical staffer” at Russia’s embassy in Berlin. The Foreign Ministry says that's untrue. The Russian government has tried to distance itself from this scandal, but Argentinian police say the flour-filled suitcases were loaded onto an Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft in the “Rossiya” Special Flight Detachment, which transports Kremlin officials. Moscow says that’s impossible, but law enforcement in Buenos Aires claim to have the photographs to prove it.