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Four Men Convicted In Russian Embassy Cocaine Case Handed Prison Terms

Two of the defendants, Vladimir Kalmykov (left) and Ishtimir Khudzhamov, take part in a virtual court hearing in Moscow. (file photo)

MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has sentenced to lengthy prison terms four defendants convicted in an anti-drug operation that found almost 400 kilograms of cocaine on the premises of the Russian Embassy in Argentina.

The Dorogomilov district court, on January 20, sentenced Andrei Kovalchuk, whom investigators called the mastermind of the operation, to 18 years in prison.

Three other men who were convicted of attempted smuggling and trafficking illegal drugs in December -- businessmen Ishtimir Khudzhamov and Vladimir Kalmykov; and a former employee of the Russian Embassy in Argentina, Ali Abyanov -- were sentenced to 13, 16, and 17 years in prison respectively.

None of the defendants is or was a diplomat.

In February 2018, Argentinian Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said 389 kilograms of cocaine were found in bags seized in December 2016, following a tip from the Russian ambassador and three officers of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).

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.

Officials 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.

Germany extradited Kovalchuk to Russia in July 2018.