Latin America & Caribbean

Argentina crematorium burns Russian cocaine haul

Russian Ambassador Dmitry Feoktistov at incineration of cocaine, 21 Aug 18 Image copyright PA
Image caption Russian Ambassador Dmitry Feoktistov threw some packs of cocaine into the oven

Russia and Argentina have used a crematorium in Buenos Aires to burn 389kg (858 pounds) of cocaine seized in a drugs bust at the Russian embassy.

The total haul of cocaine destroyed was estimated to be worth €80m (£72m; $93m).

A former embassy caretaker and an Argentine policeman are among six people held in both countries.

The burning marks the end of a long-running police operation that wouldn't disgrace a crime best-seller.

The Powder Plot

In 2016, the ex Russian ambassador alerted Argentine officials to 12 suitcases found hidden in an embassy annex. The problem? They were packed full of drugs.

After the tip-off, Argentine police got into the room with an embassy key in the dead of night, and replaced the cocaine with flour. They also tagged the cases with GPS tracking devices.

The plan was to wait for the owners to collect their cases, then swoop.

But police were in for a very long wait, as Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich explained.

"The operation took 14 months and at one point we thought that they wouldn't come for their cargo, that they realised that someone was under suspicion. But everything went well," she said, quoted by Russia's Tass news agency.

A year later, the cases arrived in Moscow, and arrests followed. It is still unclear why the suspects waited so long to move the drugs.

Russian Ambassador Dmitry Feoktistov and Ms Bullrich took part in the incineration on Tuesday.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Minister Patricia Bullrich (C) with Ambassador Feoktistov

The alleged ringleader of the smuggling gang is Andrei Kovalchuk, who was arrested in Germany and extradited to Russia in July.

Russian media name the other accused Russians as Vladimir Kalmykov, Ishtimir Khudzhamov, and Ali Abyanov.

Authorities suspect that Mr Kovalchuk hired Mr Abyanov to store the cocaine cargo in the school attached to the embassy, and to organise its transfer to Russia. At the time Mr Abyanov was the embassy's caretaker.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption In February Argentine police displayed the suitcases and the cocaine found in them

Russia's RBC news website says Mr Kalmykov and Mr Khudzhamov were arrested when they came to collect the cases at a Russian foreign ministry warehouse.

The suspects have called the police operation a "provocation", and have said they were trying to export speciality coffee from Argentina.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A Moscow court's video screen shows two of the accused - Vladimir Kalmykov (L) and Ishtimir Khudzhamov

Two Russians with Argentine citizenship are under arrest in Argentina - Alexander Chikalo, and a senior Buenos Aires policeman, Ivan Blizniouk.

The policeman is suspected of having pulled rank at the airport, enabling the cases to be loaded onto a Russian plane without customs checks.

Ms Bullrich praised the "fantastic" security co-operation with Russia, saying it had been a "very complicated operation" and "Russian police officers came here seven times".

Read more on Argentine-Russian ties:

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Argentina says it was a long, painstaking investigation with Russian colleagues

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