28 Feb 2018 18:51

Suspected organizer of Argentina cocaine affair Kovalchuk says drugs were planted to discredit Russian diplomatic mission - lawyer

MOSCOW. Feb 28 (Interfax) - Andrei Kovalchuk, the suspected organizer of a cocaine-smuggling scheme using the Russian embassy to Argentina, is convinced that the drugs were planted at the embassy's school in a conspiracy organized by local police and the United States' security services, Kovalchuk's lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov told Interfax on Wednesday.

"Kovalchuk is sure that the drugs were planted by Argentine police and that U.S. security services were involved in this provocation to discredit the Russian diplomatic mission," he said.

Kovalchuk insisted that the 12 suitcases found at the school had in fact contained coffee, alcohol, personal belongings, and gifts, and that these suitcases were originally much lighter than they were when cocaine was discovered in them, Zherebenkov said. Kovalchuk also said the embassy knew what was in the suitcases, he said.

"He has all the receipts, pay slips, and witnesses who can confirm that he really bought coffee. Judge for yourself: if he really is a drug baron, as he is being portrayed to be, then it's strange that all this stuff sat under a staircase for more than a year without a reaction from him," Zherebenkov said.

The coffee and alcohol were bought in 2016 and left at the school for storage, Zherebenkov said. The white powder was revealed at the end of November by a new housekeeping manager who had decided to inventory the embassy's property, he said.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said earlier that three Russian citizens had been caught red-handed in December 2017 in an international sting operation in Moscow while they were receiving what they thought were drugs. Over 362 kilograms of cocaine was confiscated. The three were charged with smuggling drugs and taken into custody.

It was reported on Monday that Moscow's Tverskoi District Court had ordered in December 2017 that Ali Abyanov, Vladimir Kalmykov, and Ishtimir Khudzhamov be arrested at least until mid-April 2018. The court also issued an arrest warrant for Kovalchuk as the organizer of the smuggling scheme.

The FSB said on Monday that Kovalchuk is currently in Germany.

All of these people have been indicted for an attempt to smuggle narcotics and an attempt to illegally produce, sell, or transport narcotics on a massive scale.