BUENOS AIRES – Argentine authorities, working in collaboration with their Russian counterparts, brought down an international drug-smuggling gang after a 14-month-long investigation officials said on Thursday.
Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said in a press conference that $61.5 million worth of cocaine was seized in what she described as one of “the most complex, extravagant and professional” counternarcotics operations Argentina has ever carried out.
Five people were arrested, two in Argentina and three in Russia, while the organization’s leader, identified only as “Mr. K,” is being sought in Germany.
The suspects in custody include Russian-born Argentine police officer Ivan Blizniouk and Ali Abyanov, a former official at the Russian Embassy in Buenos Aires, who was detained in his homeland after retiring from the foreign service.
The operation began in December 2016, when Russian Ambassador Viktor Koronelly told Bullrich that he suspected 12 diplomatic pouches at an embassy annex contained drugs.
A search of the pouches by Argentine police uncovered 389 kilos of cocaine.
The police decided to replace the packets drugs with identical bags filled with flour and add a tracking device in each packet.
A team made up of officials from both governments then tracked the flour bags.
On Wednesday, Blizniouk, who served on the Buenos Aires police force since 2013, was arrested at the capital’s Ezeiza International Airport while returning to Argentina from a trip. On that same day, Alexander Chikalo, another Russian-born Argentine, was also detained.