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Argentina-Russia Cocaine Plot Suspect Extradited From Germany, Jailed In Moscow

A police officer opens up a package of cocaine found in an annex building of the Russian Embassy in Buenos Aires in December 2016.

A man the Federal Security Service (FSB) claims was behind an alleged attempt to smuggle nearly 400 kilograms of cocaine from Argentina to Russia has been extradited from Germany and is in a Moscow jail, his lawyer says.

Suspect Andrei Kovalchuk "is in Matrosskaya Tishina detention center and has been formally charged with illegal drug trafficking," the lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said on July 30.

Zherebenkov did not say when Kovalchuk, who was detained on the outskirts of Berlin on March 1, had been extradited. He said his client was not answering investigators' questions, citing his constitutional right to refuse to testify against himself.

Russian authorities have said Kovalchuk is the main suspect in a case involving 16 pieces of luggage that officials say were packed with more than $60 million worth of cocaine and left in a storage area at the Russian Embassy school in Buenos Aires.

The Argentinian security minister, Patricia Bullrich, said in February that 389 kilograms of cocaine was found in the bags when they were seized in December 2016, following a tip from the Russian ambassador and three FSB officers.

The cocaine was replaced with flour and the luggage was flown in 2017 to Russia, where two men were arrested when they came to pick it up, Bullrich said.

The FSB said earlier that three suspects had been detained in Russia and two in Argentina as a result of what both countries said was a joint operation.

They said the alleged mastermind -- later identified as Kovalchuk, a former technical worker at the Russian Embassy in Argentina who then resided in Germany -- was wanted under an international arrest warrant.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said later that Kovalchuk had never worked either for the ministry or for the Russian Embassy in Argentina.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax
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