Do not smell for me, Argentina – Newspaper Kommersant No. 10 (7211) from 01/21/2022

In the Dorogomilovsky court, the trial in the case of an attempt to supply almost 400 kg of cocaine from Argentina to Moscow ended with harsh punishments. The organizer of the smuggling, businessman Andrei Kovalchuk, was sentenced to 18 years in prison, his accomplices received from 13 to 17 years. It was planned to deliver the drug in suitcases to Moscow under the guise of a diplomatic bag, and among the members of the criminal group was an Argentine policeman, a native of the Irkutsk region. The defense of the convicts, who did not plead guilty, considers the sentence to be unjustifiably harsh and, noting the poor health of their clients, fears that they may not live to see the end of their sentences.

The final court session, like the entire process, was held behind closed doors due to covid restrictions. However, the lawyers of the defendants were not worried about this at all.

“What difference does it make how the verdict is read, with or without cameras, it is clear that the terms will still be long,” one of the defenders said in a conversation with Kommersant on the eve of the meeting.

Recall that at the end of 2021, the jury found the defendants guilty of drug smuggling on an especially large scale (Article 229.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). And although the assessors noted that all the defendants deserve leniency, which saved them from life sentences, the prosecutor’s office requested harsh terms, offering 19 years in prison for Andrey Kovalchuk, and his three accomplices – from 15 to 18 years. As a result, the court gave a little less: businessman Andrey Kovalchuk received 18 years, former supply manager of the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires Ali Abyanov – 17 years, entrepreneurs Ishtimir Khudzhamov and Vladimir Kalmykov – 13 and 16 years, respectively. Also, fines were imposed on all convicts – from 900 thousand to 1.8 million rubles.

As Kommersant has repeatedly reported earlier, the investigation of this case began on November 25, 2016, when Igor Rogov, recently appointed supply manager of the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, accidentally discovered 12 suspicious suitcases at the school at the diplomatic mission. Littered with rubbish, they stood in the back room, but at the same time they were packed in special paper with wax seals as a diplomatic cargo. Tags were hung on the suitcases, which indicated that they belonged to Andrei Kovalchuk, and his phone number was also indicated. The supply manager informed the first secretary of the embassy, ​​Oleg Vorobyov, about his discovery.

Mr. Vorobyov opened one suitcase, which contained one-kilogram packets of white powder. Peppers, garlic and chemicals were scattered between them to scare away the dogs.

Having tasted the contents of the package, the secretary reported the find to Ambassador Victor Coronelli. It quickly transpired that the owner of the cargo lives in Berlin and has never worked at the embassy, ​​but visited it several times in 2016. As it turns out later, Andrey Kovalchuk presented himself either as a co-owner of the German company Bossner with allegedly great connections in the special services, or as a general of the SVR or GRU, or as an employee of the security service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All this was fiction, and the witnesses later recalled that he also suggested that they either find a building in the Argentine capital supposedly for the Gazprom office, then start filming a film about Che Guevara, or start delivering local beef to Europe.

In the meantime, FSB experts arrived in Argentina, who found that the suitcases found at the school were filled to capacity with high-purity Colombian cocaine. On December 13, 2016, Mr. Coronelli contacted Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich. After their meeting, a joint operation “12 Queens” was planned – some of the packages of cocaine were marked with the crown icon, which Colombian drug manufacturers usually put on their products.

Argentines estimated the detected batch of drugs weighing 382 kg at $30-50 million.

Bags of flour and river sand were placed in suitcases, GPS trackers were built into them, and cocaine was burned in a crematorium. Also, the Argentines began to record meetings and conversations between a local policeman, a native of the Irkutsk region, Ivan Bliznyuk, and a ship mechanic, Alexander Chikalo, who were good friends of Andrey Kovalchuk.

For its part, the FSB took on Ali Abyanov, the former supply manager of the diplomatic mission, whose wife worked as a teacher at the embassy school. He actively communicated about the cargo with his successor Rogov. From the intercepted conversations, the operatives concluded that Andrei Kovalchuk was the organizer of the delivery, and the ex-supply manager, at his request, moved the suitcases from the hotel and hid them in the back room, having previously packed them as diplomatic mail. Police officer Bliznyuk participated in the purchase of the drug and, using his official position, had to deliver the cargo to the airport with Ali Abyanov and control its shipment to Moscow. And the mechanic performed small assignments. However, the shipment of cocaine failed, as Ali Abyanov’s contract ended and he returned with his wife to Russia. It is worth noting that the case says that the perpetrators also discussed the supply of another batch of cocaine weighing 200 kg to Moscow.

Operation “12 Queens” was planned to end with the arrest of drug traffickers red-handed. But the owner of the suitcases never came to Argentina, so at the end of 2017 they were sent to Moscow. The Chekists detained Ali Abyanov and Ishtimir Khudzhamov and Vladimir Kalmykov, who were receiving the cargo, Germany soon extradited Andrei Kovalchuk, and the Argentine police detained Ivan Bliznyuk and his friend in Buenos Aires. Their trial is still ongoing.

The defense of the convicts, who did not admit their guilt, considers the sentence passed by them unjustifiably harsh and, noting the poor health of their clients, says that they may not live to see their release.

Vladislav Trifonov

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