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This is a collective analysis by The Daily Beast and the Dossier Center.
Six men anticipate balloon in Moscow and Buenos Aires, answerable with operating one of the craziest, best aggressive narco-trafficking rings in history. Russia’s admiral in Argentina was the accumulator annex and Russian government carriage was brash to move a cartel-sized assignment of about uncut cocaine from South America to Moscow. It was a transnational abomination that afraid and abashed the world, not atomic because authorities adduce it was agitated out by a baby but able assembly including one bedraggled admiral employee, one base cop, and one absorbing chameleon who acclimated some of the best defended Russian accompaniment absolute acreage to abundance and bootleg $60 amateur annual of drugs.
According to the official narrative, they did it all appropriate beneath the noses of innocent diplomats and intelligence officers—and they would accept gotten away with it afterwards the adventurous collective badge assignment of Russian and Argentinian law enforcement. But what if that accurate conclusion, which will anon be presented in court, is carefully incomplete, a blanch brash to assure added arch admiral in the Russian government?
The Daily Beast, in accord with the London-based Dossier Center, has acquired the abstracts from both the Russian and Argentinian investigations of the belled 2018 cocaine bust, including hundreds of hours of blast eavesdrop recordings, abundance of attestant and doubtable claiming transcripts, and about 10,000 pages of badge and intelligence case files. These files were leaked to the Dossier Centermost from two abstracted sources, including one in Argentina affiliated with that country’s analysis who believes these argumentative abstracts casting agnosticism on the declared captivation in the activity of two accusable Argentines. The added antecedent is abutting to the Russian investigation. All told, both sets of files appearance broad holes, contradictions, discrepancies and doubtful conclusions, which generally bound on the ludicrous.
At best, these abstracts beforehand a amazing akin of incompetence, with aboveboard leads not followed up and government admiral credibly active in the beforehand of the collective analysis not brash or prosecuted. At worst, they acrylic a darker annual of a coordinated, hemisphere-spanning coverup brash to assure those government admiral and possibly added bearding co-conspirators college up in the aliment alternation in Russia.
One U.S. federal biologic administration abettor who batten on the action of anonymity thinks that all break point to the latter. “According to our information, some assembly of the Russian admiral in Argentina… were acquainted of drug-related activities and were associated with the biologic mafia. At some point there was a leak. The Argentinian authorities begin out about the cocaine and contacted the embassy, afterwards which the Russian ancillary absitively it was safer to ‘find’ the drugs. The aspersion was bound at a adept akin and no absolute analysis was conducted by Argentina.”
But that’s not the accessible band of the Argentinian government.
On Feb. 22, 2018, Patricia Bullrich, Argentina’s civic aegis minister, lit up Twitter. She acquaint to her official annual videos of the acceptance of about 400 kilograms of cocaine from the Russian admiral in Buenos Aires. “The analysis lasted added than a year, both in Argentina and Russia, and calm we bedfast 6 assembly of this accumulation that planned to carriage a burden annual added than 50 amateur euro,” one of Bullrich’s tweets read.
The amazing breadth and arduous aggregate of the narcotics baldheaded fabricated this an atomic all-embracing story. It became an alike bigger annual accident aback Bullrich appear that Ivan Bliznyuk, the advice administrator at the Institute of Accessible Security, Buenos Aires’s badge academy, had been arrested in affiliation with the aforementioned biologic case. Yet the affirmation for his accord in the drug-running syndicate rests about absolutely on the babble of a Russian admiral aegis official, who, by his own admission, adopted a see-no-evil acceptance for several months to the appearance of 12 aberrant accoutrements stored on admiral grounds.
Bliznyuk and a adolescent Argentine, the U.S. biologic administration abettor said, “were bedfast in adjustment to avert suspicion from the admiral and [Russian] Adopted Admiral admiral who acclimated adept channels for smuggling and were the drugs’ absolute beneficiaries.” An administrator in Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Bureau agrees that there were added admiral agents assembly involved, and adds that they acceptable had acceptance to Russian intelligence attributable to the tradecraft and planning circuitous in the bootless scheme.
At the centermost of this circuitous web of declared abomination sits the basic amateur in the case, Andrei Kovalchuk. He claims he is the victim of a all-inclusive cabal and ran afield of the actual intelligence organs he had anxiously served for years—the organs of two countries, in fact, Russia and Germany. “My misfortunes began,” he wrote from a bastille corpuscle in Berlin breadth he accessible displacement to Moscow, “after the operation to accompany the Crimea to Russia in 2014, in which I took part, for which I was awarded a badge for this operation, which is amid here, in Berlin.” Kovalchuk’s advocate insists his applicant has helped nab terrorists, mobsters, and gun-runners from Lower Saxony to Düsseldorf. He denies all of the charges.
“Kovalchuk is a man of intelligence, conceivably retired, but still confined the Russian government ”
— Antecedent in Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency
At already a blank and a changeling, Kovalchuk is abounding of absurd tales about himself and his assorted clients, assembly and accomplices but this abundant can be absolutely established: He maintained abiding relationships with a alternation of aegis admiral in assorted countries, as able-bodied as admiral of the Russian Adopted Ministry. He had an accomplished alive ability of the blueprint and protocols of Russian missions, not to acknowledgment the agreement for wrapping and adept parcels. And he allegedly seconded a host of Russian government cartage and aircraft to move not aloof drugs but jewelry, clothes, and pharmaceuticals beyond civic borders. Based on the Argentine and Russian indictments, we are acceptance to accept that all of this was abiding abreast by Kovalchuk with a little banknote and a lot of cognac, cigars, and candies address of a able-bodied and barbate business associate, a camera-friendly Russian banishment in Germany who’s taken to calling himself a “baron.”
An all-embracing man of abstruseness requires assorted identities. Over a arresting 20-year career, Kovalchuk has anesthetized himself off not abandoned as a spook, but additionally a diplomat, a Gazprom representative, a shrink, a philanthropist, and a man of leisure. Yet in animosity of all his amazing Moscow connections, this Ukrainian-born grifter was never alike a accustomed Russian citizen; all of his passports, the case files show, were invalid. Thus the basic perpetrator sitting in pretrial apprehension in Moscow is technically stateless.
Did Kovalchuk spy for the SVR, Russia’s adopted intelligence service, or was it the GRU, its aggressive service? Both abjure he was one of theirs. “Kovalchuk is a man of intelligence, conceivably retired, but still confined the Russian government,” a antecedent in Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Bureau told us.
That would absolutely explain why the functionaries in the Russian Adopted Admiral acutely active in the case files as Kovalchuk’s blackmarket handmaids were never brash or abeyant or accursed from their jobs. In fact, they all accept to accept been composed by this scandal, all, that is, save the one who committed “suicide” alfresco his Moscow accommodation three weeks afterwards the cocaine was apparent at the admiral in Buenos Aires. Kovalchuk is additionally actuality approved in bankrupt Russian court, a allotment frequently aloof for minors, sex offenders or those for whom publicized due action risks compromising affairs of civic security.
Both the Russian and Argentinian governments accept bootless to annual for how Kovalchuk, a man of bound banking resources, acquired eight-figures annual of high-purity boot crumb or to actuate its ultimate beneficiaries. At times, the lath artlessly bootless to chase up on accessible leads, such as investigating the accessible captivation of the Sinaloa biologic bunch as the manufacturers of the cocaine or afterward up on a Dutch buzz cardinal said to accord to the brash applicant or almsman of it.
Still addition concern of this activity is why Nikolai Patrushev, the administrator of the Civic Aegis Council, the aloft administrator of the Federal Aegis Service, or FSB, and one of the best able strongmen in Vladimir Putin’s abutting sanctum, flew to and from Argentina, allegedly on the aforementioned Russian government alike acclimated in the bite operation that snared Kovalchuk. And why did the Kremlin afresh abjure that his aircraft (and possibly additionally Patrushev himself) had been circuitous in this drug-trafficking story?
Whoever Andrei Kovalchuk is, or was, afore his name appeared in adventurous multilingual print, his declared coke-smuggling plan appropriate a arrangement of well-placed fixers and mules. He begin his aboriginal declared bagman in an embassy.
In 2012, Ali Abyanov, the arch of the authoritative and economics administration at the Russian admiral in Buenos Aires, said he accustomed a alarm from addition who alien himself as Andrei Kovalchuk, a aegis administrator at the Russian admiral in Berlin.
According to the case files, Kovalchuk told his apparent aide that he’d be traveling to Argentina in the average of the year and would actual abundant like to meet. Abyanov afterwards told Russian lath that he didn’t apperceive why this actuality had declared him or why he basic to accommodated him but he consented anyway. Kovalchuk charge accept fabricated an accomplished aboriginal consequence because Abyanov agreed to drive him aback to Buenos Aires All-embracing Airport by adept car. Already they accustomed at the airport Kovalchuk removed his baggage from the vehicle—all but one attache belief amid 25 and 30 kilograms. The heft, he told Abyanov, owed to the acoustic contents: wine, coffee grounds, and cookies.
According to Abyanov’s interrogation, Kovalchuk afresh gave the acreage administrator $1,000 and asked if he wouldn’t apperception commitment the attache to Russia on Kovalchuk’s account at a afterwards date. Abyanov said he took his new acquaintance’s babble at face bulk and never opened the parcel.
Around the end of year, Kovalchuk allegedly declared Abyanov and told him it was time to accelerate his package: a Russian burden alike appointed to fly to Moscow out of Montevideo, Uruguay, was abrogation at the end of 2012 and his actuality should be on it. Abyanov couriered the attache to Montevid, afresh submitted it as burden on the abandonment flight.
The afterward year, 2013, Kovalchuk visited Argentina three times, now with an absolutely altered occupation. No best a aloft aegis administrator absorbed to the admiral in Berlin, he was now an abettor of Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company. On one of these three trips, Kovalchuk met Nikolai Shelepov, the aboriginal secretary of the Russian admiral in Argentina, whose job is that of abettor arch of aegis for the ambassador, a job generally abounding by an intelligence officer. They went to a bistro and Kovalchuk said he’d appear to boondocks to analysis on the “feasibility of Gazprom accepting a celebrated architecture in the centermost of Buenos Aires,” according to Shelepov, who said Kovalchuk additionally boasted of his abounding contacts in the Russian Adopted Ministry.
“Kovalchuk is a actuality ‘from the center,’ that is, from the Russian Adopted Ministry”
— Igor Rogov, Buenos Aires admiral official
Shelepov was additionally abundantly afflicted with his vouched-for compatriot. He absitively to acquaint Kovalchuk to Ivan Bliznyuk, the advice administrator of the Institute of Accessible Safety, the point of acquaintance for all-embracing relations at the Buenos Aires badge academy. Bliznyuk is an Argentine of Russian heritage; he had three accouchement but lived on a bashful accompaniment allowance and he “dreamed of award a job with Gazprom,” according to Shelepov. As allotment of our investigation, we wrote to Bliznyuk about his role, and he accustomed that Kovalchuk had anesthetized himself off as a Gazprom abettor who bare a keyed-in bounded to advice buy “a architecture in Buenos Aires for their headquarters… That’s why Shelepov acceptance me for a beer at a bar and alien us to anniversary added there.”
According to the case files, Kovalchuk alternate to Argentina in 2014, Abyanov told investigators, and handed off two added accoutrements to his mule. He afresh told Abyanov they were abounding with wine, coffee and cookies, abandoned this time he had a appropriate set of aircraft instructions, as Abyanov recalled: “to backpack the accoutrements distinctively with paper, cord and wax seal. Usually, this is how adept mail is packed, which is not accountable to inspection.”
Kovalchuk is declared to accept paid $1,000 per suitcase. Abyanov ability not accept been the concern blazon but nor was he beneath any illusions as to why he was so amply compensated, $1,000 goes a continued way in Argentina. He beatific them from Montevideo to Moscow aboard a Russian aggressive carriage plane.
In his affidavit to Russian investigators, Abyanov contradicted himself as to what he doubtable he was alteration for Kovalchuk. First, in 2017, he said, he believed the bales absolute “prohibited” items but in a abstracted interrogation, in 2019, he said he never doubtable Kovalchuk was annihilation but above-board attributable to his acquaintance with “everyone at the embassy” and his common appearance at admiral receptions.
At the allurement of the Russian Interior Ministry, a appointment of badge admiral from Buenos Aires, including Bliznyuk, catholic to Moscow. Afterwards the official ceremonies concluded, the guests absitively to booty a cruise to St. Petersburg, and Bliznyuk was tasked with acclimation the excursion. He asked Shelepov aback at the admiral about how best to conduct a guided bout for the Spanish-speaking appointment of badge admiral , who are accustomed as gendarmes in Argentina, through Russia’s cultural capital. Shelepov anticipation of Kovalchuk, the well-connected Gazprom rep, who was abandoned too blessed to help.
He affiliated Bliznyuk up with one of his old accompany and business assembly from Germany, Baron Konstantin von Bossner. Konstanin Loskutnikov, as he was born, is a barbate buck of a man with added than a casual affinity to Robbie Coltrane’s ex-KGB bandit Valentin Zukovsky in the James Bond films. He owns a Berlin-based company, Bossner, which hawks chocolate, hand-rolled Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars, ostrich and python purses, crocodile shoes, Georgian wine, and its own signature casting of cognac, Bossner X.O. All of these products, the aggregation website notes, are “designed to account joy and absolute emotions.”
Bossner is as adherent to God as he is to bespoke covering accessories; he founded the Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, a German-registered charity, in 2010, and was awarded the Adjustment of Account in Germany beforehand this year for his altruistic work.
According to the analytic files, the Baron fabricated abiding Bliznyuk showed the Argentinian cops a acceptable time. They were feted with Bossner staples—cognac, amber and cigars— and taken on a canoeing cruise forth the rivers and canals of Russia’s best European city. Kovalchuk at times portrayed himself as a adumbrative of the Bossner company, addition who came into these abounding “samples” of booze and cigars, which he’d allotment with beholden admiral and influencers from abounding nations. A letter from Bossner’s Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, active by Bossner, shows that Kovalchuk was an official adumbrative of the Berlin-based charity. According to the eavesdrop transcripts, Kovalchuk alike asked Bossner’s wife if she’d become his son’s godmother, an account she accepted. Bossner, however, maintained throughout his Interior Admiral interrogations that he had no absolute accord with Kovalchuk, whom he portrayed as a bargain and schnorrer, acquisitive to lap up those chargeless “samples” of the exile’s finest affluence appurtenances as an beforehand on investments which never came.
“Several years ago [Kovalchuk] was brought to my appointment by a baronial abettor of Gazprom in Germany and alien as a colonel, the arch of the appropriate services, who deals with consulates in Europe, Asia, Latin America and added rubbish,” Bossner told Germany’s OstWest TV in 2018. “Mr. Kovalchuk, like abounding others, approved our products, smoked our cigars, drank our cognac, then, over the years… allurement for one sample, [then] addition sample, [he told us] he will try to acquisition a client, that he flies about to the accomplished apple that he will try to adapt the auction of our products, and artlessly wants to accomplish money on this. We are consistently accessible to any affectionate of cooperation, so it generally comes from us samples of cigarettes and cognac, but not a distinct deal, not a distinct arrangement was concluded.”
Kovalchuk flew aback to Argentina three times in 2015, according to biking records. On his third trip, adhering to a now-established tradition, he gave Abyanov two accoutrements and $2,000. Abyanov said he hid these away in a car barn absorbed to the admiral academy breadth the diplomats beatific their kids, apprehension Kovalchuk’s apprehension of aback and how they should leave the country.
In February 2016, a appointment of Russian policemen flew to Argentina as allotment of a affectionate of barter affairs afterward the awful accustomed Argentinian appointment from the year before. Kovalchuk was in boondocks and abounding a accession in account of the visiting admiral at the Russian embassy. Abyanov said he alien him to Oleg Vorobiev, the new aboriginal secretary and admiral aegis chief, who had replaced Shelepov. No best a Gazprom rep, Kovalchuk was presented as a aegis official absorbed to the Russian Adopted Ministry.
Kovalchuk relayed greetings to Vorobiev from his antecedent Shelepov, now aback in Moscow. Vorobiev and Kovalchuk addled up a accord and started to communicate. In March 2016, Kovalchuk told the aegis arch he’d been appointed the Berlin adumbrative of Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian Adopted Ministry’s cultural beat arm, according to Vorobiev. (Vorobiev afterwards told lath that he never asked for nor saw a business agenda from Kovalchuk, alike as the latter’s activity morphed throughout their relationship.)
Kovalchuk alternate to Argentina several added times in the bounce and summer of 2016, consistently endlessly by the embassy, and, blockage in to see Abyanov and Vorobiev, according to their statements to investigators.
“It’s artlessly not accessible that the arch of aegis in the admiral in Argentina didn’t analysis on Kovalchuk. It’s a all-important protocol.”
— Jan Neumann, a aloft FSB officer
According to the Russian case files, including Abyanov’s account to investigators, ancient in the average of 2016, Kovalchuk gave 10 suitcases, all allegedly abounding with wine and semiprecious gems, to Abyanov, who confused them to the aforementioned barn in the admiral academy breadth he’d stowed the antecedent two. He asked addition admiral abettor to backpack these accoutrements as adept mail. Abyanov afresh confused all 12 accoutrements from the barn to a little-used account allowance in the school. It was a acutely ideal ambuscade spot, amid burst tables, chairs, old computers and added junk.
Each of the 12 suitcases, as would afterwards be discovered, were abounding with 30 briquettes of about undiluted cocaine, with anniversary briquette absolute a little over a kilogram. The bulk of 389 kilograms, the accessible absolute weight in Kovalchuk’s declared consignment, is about $60 million.
Drug administration experts from assorted countries said that such a ample account cannot accept been purchased from bounded biologic dealers. Kolvachuk, they said, would accept bare a longstanding and trusted accord with high-level narco traffickers to acceptance and move that affectionate of volume. Neither the Argentinian nor Russian lath approved to bare the accumulation alternation or acquisition out how Kovalchuk, an declared Russian spy, who had no cogent sources of wealth, assured up with drugs annual tens of millions of dollars.
Three types of bunch stamps—a brilliant aural a star, a ambit and the casting “LG”—were begin on the briquettes. The aboriginal two are about associated with the Sinaloa Cartel. Annihilation in the Argentinian or Russian abstracts we accept pored through indicates that this allotment of affirmation was investigated.
On July 19, 2016, Abyanov’s admiral arrangement expired. A new acreage manager, Igor Rogov, took his place.
Sometime during the month-long handover period, Abyanov says he told his almsman about the appearance of 12 boxes in the account room, abacus that he didn’t apperceive what they absolute but that they all belonged to Kovalchuk.
Rogov didn’t apperceive who Kovalchuk was and asked Abyanov about him. “Abyanov answered me that Kovalchuk is a actuality ‘from the center,’ that is, from the Russian Adopted Ministry,” Rogov told Russian investigators. “Abyanov batten actual able-bodied of Kovalchuk and said that Kovalchuk had visited Argentina abounding times and knew abounding people, including the admiral staff.”
Several months went by. Then, in a Skype chat, Rogov said Abyanov asked him to accelerate the accoutrements to Moscow by appropriate aggressive plane, which was due to acceptance at the Montevideo airport in aboriginal December 2016. Rogov bare advice for the job. “I abominably angry to one or addition admiral employee,” he told investigators, “eventually extensive the aggressive attaché and alike the Abettor Viktor Koronelli.”
Koronelli had been abettor aback 2011, a year afore Kovalchuk aboriginal fabricated acquaintance with Ali Abyanov. And yet, in animosity of Kovalchuk’s common appearances at the embassy, Koronelli told lath that he’d abandoned met him once, in March 2016. It was at the address of Abyanov, who’d alien Kovalchuk as a adumbrative of the Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, an employee, in added words, of Bossner’s charity. Kovalchuk took that break to name-drop several alternate accompany and acquaintances, according to Abettor Koronelli’s account to investigators. Koronelli added that he never agitated to analysis on his interlocutor’s bona fides.
“It’s abundantly accessible to analysis on someone’s accreditation from an embassy,” said Jan Neumann, a aloft FSB administrator from Directorate K, the aforementioned banking crimes assemblage tasked with investigating the Kovalchuk case. Neumann defected to the United States in 2008 and became a CIA and FBI informant. “You put a alarm into Moscow. If the actuality you’re blockage on claims to accept been acquaint to addition Russian mission, Moscow afresh calls that mission to verify he’s legit. All of this takes minutes. And it’s artlessly not accessible that the arch of aegis in the admiral in Argentina didn’t analysis on Kovalchuk. It’s a all-important protocol.”
Koronelli’s appellation as abettor to Argentina assured in June 2018, about four months afterwards the cocaine aspersion was publicized. Koronelli is now Russia’s abettor to Mexico; he beneath to animadversion on this story.
According to the archetype of an Argentinian eavesdrop of Bliznyuk, Koronelli quarreled with Kovalchuk, a actuality Koronelli did not blab to Russian lath afterwards adage he’d abandoned met Kovalchuk once, casually, at the embassy. This conversation, anachronous Oct. 11, 2017, has never afore been fabricated accessible and undercuts Koronelli’s affirmation of a one-off appointment with the declared primary biologic smuggler. It additionally complicates the two Argentinian defendants’ role as declared accomplices, as it suggests that Kovalchuk hadn’t paid Bliznyuk or Alexander Chikalo as allotment of the scheme.
Bliznyuk: Sanya [Alexander], we from Andriukha [Kovalchuk], neither I nor you, accept not accustomed a penny in all this time.
Chikalo: Not once, nothing.
Bliznyuk: Especially aback the accoutrements are at the embassy. First, the admiral issues… well, he [Kovalchuk] had a action with Koronelli.
Bliznyuk: Yes, the new abettor will acceptance soon.
For some reason, Kovalchuk allegedly afflicted his cocaine beat scheme, and sped up the timeline. Instead of absolution Rogov celerity the accoutrements by appropriate aggressive alike in December, Kovalchuk flew aback to Argentina on Nov. 25 to retrieve the items himself. Aback he arrived, he spent a day adrift the burghal but backward bright of the embassy, usually one of his aboriginal ports of call. It’s not accustomed what he got up to that day, nor with whom, but the 24-hour breach bulk him dearly.
On Nov. 25, the day Kovalchuk affected bottomward at Buenos Aires All-embracing Airport, Rogov assuredly told Vorobiev about the suitcases, according to Rogov’s affidavit to Russian investigators. Vorobiev, he said, absitively to analysis on their contents. He begin the briquettes. “Vorobiev ripped the packaging off one of them, and we saw a aeroembolism white crumb inside,” Rogov said in his interrogation. “We accomplished that it could be drugs.”
Vorobiev afresh notified Abettor Koronelli, according to the Russian case files. Koronelli phoned the Russian Adopted Admiral in Moscow. The 9th Division of the K-Directorate of the Economic Aegis Annual of FSB and the 14th Division of the Basic Biologic Control Directorate of the Interior Admiral opened an investigation. Except the Russian government hasn’t kept the adventure of how it abundant straight.
Most of the files from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Appointment announce that the accoutrements of cocaine were acutely “found”—meaning through a brash chase for them, not an adventitious discovery—on the atramentous of Dec. 8, 2016, when, at the administration of the Adopted Ministry, admiral agents reopened them. The agents did so, according to these files, in the appearance of FSB assembly who had aureate to Buenos Aires from Moscow afterwards Koronelli alerted the Adopted Ministry. And yet, in one FSB certificate the accoutrements are recorded as accepting been “found” on Dec. 4 and opened the abutting day. That certificate makes no acknowledgment of FSB assembly from Moscow actuality present for this beforehand unveiling. A agnate alterity apropos the absolute weight of the evidence.
Depending on which certificate you’re attractive at, the 12 accoutrements accommodate amounts of cocaine alignment from 357 to 389 kilograms, a arrears of 32 kilograms, or $5 amateur annual of cocaine. (The accurate weight may never be known: In August 2018, the Argentinians burnt all the cocaine in accordance with what they say were the protocols of affirmation destruction.) “Under the Federal Rules for Evidence, the date alterity and the weight alterity would potentially attack any bent case of those responsible,” the U.S. biologic administration abettor said. “The affirmation is not exact and the biologic bulk and weight charge to be absolute and brash by a class and a bright alternation of aegis charge be intact. The Argentinian-Russian case reeks of affirmation mishandling… of the analysis and prosecution.”
On the atramentous of Dec. 13, Koronelli had a affair with Patricia Bullrich, the Argentinian aegis minister, formally conference her about the appearance of hundreds of kilos of cocaine in the Russian embassy. At the aforementioned meeting, according to the case files, Vorobiev appropriate to his Argentine counterparts that one of the smugglers was acceptable Ivan Bliznyuk, the point-man at the Argentinian badge academy.
On Dec. 14, a appropriate operation was launched by the Argentinian gendarmerie to bolt the calm ancillary of this narco-trafficking ring. The 12 accoutrements were removed from the admiral and loaded assimilate a auto barter and apprenticed to a badge facility. They recorded the procedure. There, the cases were opened, and the drugs were weighed. The admiral afresh swapped the cocaine for a admixture of beach and flour, repackaged in accoutrements rather than briquettes, and resealed aggregate as it had been.
The accoutrements were afresh alternate to the embassy, breadth the gendarmes installed three cameras on the academy premises. GPS systems were allegedly placed central suitcases.
Argentinian law administration opened their own bent analysis and broke Bliznyuk’s phones as able-bodied as those of Chikalo, a abutting acquaintance and ancient acquaintance in Buenos Aires. These wiretaps anon accustomed that both men were in connected advice with Andrei Kovalchuk. So Russian authorities afterwards broke Kovalchuk’s phones.
The declared basic amateur in what was now a acutely compromised smuggling arena is accused of spending the abutting year or so attempting altered beat schemes. One, for instance, circuitous bringing Russian cadets to Argentina on a cruise bankrolled by the active Bossner, the abstraction actuality that the cadets would fly home with absolute cargo, calmly explained away as souvenirs or somesuch. For assorted reasons, all of Kovalchuk’s declared gambits fizzled.
Then, on Oct. 11, 2017, he notified Vorobiev and Rogov he was advancing aback to Buenos Aires himself, blind they were now allotment of a government artifice to bolt him.
The FSB and Interior Admiral lath weren’t absolutely accessible to abutting the net.
Instead, they ordered Rogov to leave boondocks on a business cruise to the littoral burghal of Mar del Plata, abrogation Kovalchuk afterwards his abandoned keymaster for the admiral academy account room.
We apperceive what happened aback Kovalchuk accustomed in Buenos Aires because we accept the wiretaps of Bliznyuk and Chikalo discussing it on Oct. 11.
Kovachulk, Bliznyuk said on the phone, had asked him to move accoutrements he’d larboard at the admiral in barter for $10,000. Bliznyuk told Chikalo that Kovalchuk had said the cases absolute “sea bobcat skins” from Uruguay that could be awash at aerial prices in Russia and Germany. Judging from their conversation, Bliznyuk and Chikalo acutely anticipation Kovalchuk was capricious and suspect; Bliznyuk told his acquaintance he’d accept no allotment in Kovalchuk’s absurd scheme.
We additionally apperceive what Bliznyuk did next, based on addition wiretap: he anon declared Vorobiev on Oct. 12, a day afterwards his chat with Chikalo, to acquaint the admiral aegis arch about Kovalchuk’s address and the appearance of apprehensive accoutrements on admiral grounds, which Bliznyuk said apparently absolute “forbidden elements.”
Vorobiev was now allotment of the bite operation to bolt Kovalchuk and so he played dumb, casting agnosticism on the story. But on that aforementioned alarm Vorobiev asked Bliznyuk if the closing brash to advice Kovalchuk, to which Bliznyuk answered, “Can’t do it and that’s all. Why would I blend with this?”
As Kovalchuk allegedly saw it, he was active out of time and accommodating or accessible intermediaries to get his drugs out of Argentina. Lath affirmation that Kovalchuk aboriginal angry to a accustomed pretext: the alms of Baron Konstanin von Bossner aback it came to abasement affable foreigners. According to this stratagem, an admiral car would drive to the airport to aggregate Bossner’s cognac and amber brash for the Argentinian policemen from the St. Petersburg delegation. The “gifts” would be aureate to Buenos Aires from Berlin, breadth Bossner’s appointment was, on a artful jet. For the acknowledgment flight, Kovalchuk’s “sea bobcat skins” and the declared accouterments of diplomats—in reality, the drugs—would allegedly be loaded onboard. Except the jet wasn’t aerial anon to Berlin. Aboriginal it would acreage in Riga, Latvia, breadth Kovalchuk allegedly said he had assembly who’d move the appurtenances accomplished community afterwards any problem. Aerial on to Berlin would afresh beggarly adverse no analysis hurdle attributable to the European Union’s Schengen breadth of complete biking beyond borders.
One of Kovalchuk’s business ally in Moscow, Ishtimir Khudjamov, said he was asked to advice with the operation. On Oct. 14, 2017, Khudjamov flew to Berlin and best up a box of cognac and sweets from Bossner’s office. To absolve the abode in Riga on the way back, Khudjamov said he best up article else: three Latvian nationals who weren’t told of their absolute role as decoys in a drug-running operation. Instead, Khudjamov told the Latvians to affectation as a abstruse aggregation absorbed to Zvezda, the Russian Defense Ministry’s TV station. All they knew was that they’d be carrying the ability to Argentina, afresh alteration things on the way home. (Khudjamov now pleads chastity and benightedness to actuality a narcotrafficker at all; he told Russian lath that Kovalchuk had claimed the acknowledgment burden was a attenuate and big-ticket casting of coffee beans.)
The botheration was Rogov was still away on his affected “business trip” aback the Bossner presents were due to arrive. And, as the acreage administrator was still the abandoned one who could acceptance the account allowance in the admiral school, lath adduce Kovalchuk couldn’t retrieve his drugs on time. On Oct. 18, the jet larboard Buenos Aires, ablaze of the cognac and chocolate, but additionally any coke.
Although it was a bust, the plan approved Kovalchuk’s well-honed tradecraft.
Less than a ages later, on Nov. 8, Kovalchuk declared Rogov and Vorobiev and told them he’d be aback in Argentina in two days. This time Rogov wasn’t told to feign a assignment excursion. With Vorobiev’s permission, he met Kovalchuk and told him the accoutrements could be alien aboard a Russian government aircraft the afterward month.
Around the aforementioned time, Kovalchuk batten to Khudjamov, according to Argentinian wiretaps. They discussed “200 kilograms” afterwards allegorical the actuality (although we can apparently guess) which were about in Uruguay. Kovalchuk said he basic that assignment aureate out of Buenos Aires on the Russian plane.
He was assuredly in luck, or so it may accept seemed. On Nov. 13, his accoutrements begin themselves entered assimilate the manifest. His baggage was declared to be transferred by RA-96023, a adolescent Ilyushin-96 long-haul aeroplane operated by Russia’s Appropriate Flight Detachment, the property, no less, of Russia’s Presidential Administration acclimated best frequently by Nikolai Patrushev.
Patrushev is one of the best affecting assembly of the Kremlin abutting amphitheater and a decision-maker aback it comes to Russian adopted policy. He succeeded Vladimir Putin as administrator of the FSB aback Putin was appointed prime abbot of Boris Yeltsin’s government in 1999. Patrushev is now Secretary of the Civic Aegis Council and RA-96023 is so associated with his beyond jaunts that it’s colloquially accustomed in Russia as “Patrushev’s plane.”
On Feb. 27, 2018 Yelena Krylova, the agent for Russia’s Presidential Affairs Directorate, denied that the aircraft was circuitous in the “cocaine case.” “Journalists fabricated abstracts based on inaccurate information—in this case, photographs that can be calmly biased acknowledgment to avant-garde technology,” Krylova said. Her denial, however, contradicts what’s in the Argentinian case file, according to which the FSB abreast Buenos Aires as aboriginal as Nov. 17, 2017 that Patrushev’s alike was to be acclimated for the appropriate operation. The alike cardinal 96023 is acutely arresting not abandoned in the photographs about appear by the Argentinian gendarmerie but additionally in the video, uploaded on their official YouTube approach on Feb. 23, 2018.
The Argentinian files additionally affirm that RA-96023 was absolutely acclimated “during the visit” of Patrushev to Argentina, suggesting that’s how the Russian official got there and back.
Yet addition in the Russian government doesn’t appetite this actuality to be about acknowledged. Anon afterwards Russian media letters alike about Patrushev’s alike possibly actuality acclimated in a buried biologic bust, the website with the accordant flight data, russianplanes.net, went offline. Moreover, the architect of that website removed the russianplanes.net accumulation from VKontakte, a accepted amusing media network, as able-bodied as his claimed VKontakte folio and a sister portal, russianships.net, committed to tracking abyssal vessels. “I aloof took it all and deleted it, maybe article didn’t assignment out appropriate there,” the website operator, articular as “Kiba,” said in an account with absolute Russian aperture Mediazona. “I’m a little abutting now, so I went and removed it, I don’t appetite to set anyone up.”
Patrushev’s alike was appointed to acceptance from Moscow on Dec. 4, carrying Patrushev for one of those jaunts, a appointment to Argentina. It was appointed to acknowledgment to Moscow with the civic aegis secretary on lath on Dec. 6. This is the conveyance Kovalchuk allegedly anticipation astute to carriage about 400 kilos of high-grade cocaine beyond assorted time zones.
On Nov. 15, Kovalchuk and Khudjamov larboard Argentina.
Shortly afore departing, Kovalchuk batten to Rogov and fabricated a few final touches to his plan. He allegedly asked him to abolish from the accoutrements the name of the Russian abettor they evidently belonged to: Alexander Nezimov, the agent administrator of the consular administration of the Adopted Ministry. Kovalchuk allegedly instructed Rogov to artlessly address Kovalchuk’s Russian blast cardinal on the cases and use the abridgement “CD,” acceptable continuing for “Corps Diplomatique,” which is agitated by all adept licenses overseas.
On Dec. 4, Vorobiev collection the accoutrements abounding with beach and abrade to Buenos Aires All-embracing Airport and loaded them assimilate Patrushev’s Ilyushin. There is every indication, based on both the accessible almanac and the Argentinian case files, that Patrushev was on lath the alike aback it ancient Argentina for Russia, authoritative the aloft FSB administrator and one of Putin’s best trusted civic aegis admiral a affair to the bite operation.
On the morning of Dec. 7, Patrushev’s alike affected bottomward in Moscow. So did the accoutrements allegedly acceptance to Kovalchuk, which were beatific anon to an FSB accumulator facility. The abutting day the FSB declared Kovalchuk’s blast number, cacographic on the cargo. He best up; the FSB administrator on the added end alien himself as a bagman from the Adopted Admiral and asked about the pickup. Kovalchuk said his accessory Vladimir Kalmykov would appear to aggregate the parcels.
On Dec. 9, Argentinian gendarmes accustomed in Russia to accept their role in the appropriate operation to snatch the smugglers.
On Dec. 12, Kalmykov and Khudjamov accustomed at a Adopted Admiral ability to booty aegis of the suitcases. They were anon arrested by the FSB.
According to abstracts from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the brash almsman of the accoutrements could be in Belgium or the Netherlands. Yet no attack was fabricated to attending for them. Moreover, a Dutch adaptable buzz cardinal allegedly affiliated with the ultimate almsman of the burden was never investigated.
On the atramentous that Kalmykov and Khudjamov were nabbed, Ali Abyanov, the aloft acreage administrator of the admiral in Buenos Aires, was additionally arrested at his accommodation in Moscow.
Kovalchuk wasn’t, however, as he was abroad.
According to a antecedent in his aggregation at the time, he remained appreciably calm. Aback his accompany brash him to abscond to a country with no displacement accord with Russia, he insisted he had annihilation to anguish about.