HomeNewsBriefCocaine Ring in Russia’s Argentina Embassy Dismantled
BRIEF

Cocaine Ring in Russia’s Argentina Embassy Dismantled

ARGENTINA / 23 FEB 2018 BY ANGELIKA ALBALADEJO EN

An unprecedented seizure of nearly half a ton of cocaine at the Russian embassy in Argentina has exposed an international drug ring that counted on help from corrupt officials in the police and diplomatic service.

Following a 14-month joint investigation by Argentine and Russian authorities, several individuals involved in an unusual scheme to traffic cocaine into Russia using diplomatic luggage were arrested on February 21, according to a press release from Argentina’s Security Ministry.

The astonishing saga began on December 13, 2016 when Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich received a tip from Russian Ambassador Viktor Koronelli suggesting that diplomatic suitcases being stored in a school on the embassy grounds should be searched.

Argentine authorities working in conjunction with the Russian federal security service entered the embassy in the dead of night and seized more than 850 pounds of high quality cocaine hidden inside the diplomatic luggage. Authorities then quickly fitted the bags with cameras and GPS tracking devices, replaced the cocaine with flour purchased from a Buenos Aires grocery store and put the suitcases back before embassy staff arrived the next day.


Over the course of the next year, investigators uncovered a network of six Argentine and Russian nationals involved in attempting to traffic what they still believed to be a valuable load of drugs into Russia.

Security Minister Bullrich said that the criminal network was headed by a Russian businessman identified only as “Mr. K.”

Ali Abyanov, who at the time was a Russian embassy official, is alleged to have been the drug ring’s main diplomatic contact.

Ivan Blizniouk, a Buenos Aires city police officer of Russian heritage, and his confidant Alexander Chikalo, who served as the embassy’s accountant, are alleged to have been in charge of logistics, including getting the drugs through Argentine customs.

The group failed to move the suitcases on three occasions throughout 2017, until on December 9 of that year the Russian government coordinated a flight for an official visit to Argentina, and the diplomatic luggage was loaded onto the plane.

Two days later in Moscow, Vladimir Kalmykov and Ishtimir Khudzamov were arrested by Argentine authorities as they attempted to collect the suitcases. Russian authorities simultaneously arrested Abyanov from his Moscow apartment.

Blizniouk and Chikalo were arrested by the Argentine national police in Buenos Aires two months later on February 21.

The mysterious “Mr. K” is thought to remain at large in Germany with an international order for his arrest, according to Security Minister Bullrich.

Based on statements made by Argentine and Russian authorities, it is unclear whether the cocaine may have been destined for sale during the upcoming 2018 World Cup games in Russia or for distribution to other European countries including Germany.

InSight Crime Analysis

The bizarre story of the cocaine bust in Russia’s Argentine embassy is out of the ordinary for drug trafficking dynamics between Latin America and Europe, raising questions about where the drugs were destined to go and how an Argentine police officer and Russian diplomats got caught up in the scheme in the first place.

Europe is becoming an increasingly attractive destination for cocaine trafficking in recent years, as Colombian-led networks attempt to cash in on booming production in the South American country. Massive shipments of cocaine have been seized in Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Germany. Earlier this month, a plan to smuggle half a ton of cocaine on a private jet from Colombia to the United Kingdom was also foiled. Attempts to traffic cocaine from Argentina into Spain and Portugal have also previously been intercepted by authorities.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime

However, the Argentine-Russian network recently dismantled by authorities seems to be the first large-scale plot to move the drug into Europe through Russia. Although in the end the odd network of diplomats, businessmen and a police officer actually transported suitcases full of flour, the seized drugs were estimated to have a value in European markets of between $50 and $60 million.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America's largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCAINE / 12 MAR 2021

The extradition of a mayor threatens to topple his family’s decades-long political control of a coastal Pacific town -- a…

ARGENTINA / 4 JUN 2018

A spike in homicide rates in Rosario, Argentina, and an attack on the home of a judge who sentenced top…

COCAINE / 17 APR 2019

It is abundantly clear, given decades of trial and error and escalating scientific evidence, that prohibition only makes risky drug use even riskier.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…