Police in Argentina have busted a drug-smuggling ring running high-quality cocaine to Europe through the diplomatic courier service of the Russian embassy, Argentina’s government revealed Thursday.
Security minister Patricia Bullrich told reporters that 389 kilograms of cocaine had been found in diplomatic luggage in an annex of the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, with a value of about $61 million. The bust came after a yearlong investigation.
“A gang of narco-criminals was trying to use the diplomatic courier service of the Russian embassy to ship the drugs to Europe,” she said.
Six suspected traffickers have been arrested over the plot, including a former Russian diplomatic official and an Argentine police officer, authorities said.
The investigation began when Argentine police received a tipoff from the Russian ambassador in December 2016, reporting that he had suspicions about diplomatic bags found at a school in an annex of the embassy.
Police found drugs inside 16 pieces of luggage. In a joint operation between Russian and Argentine police, they switched the cocaine for flour, added a tracking device to the bags, monitored its delivery to Russia, then swooped in when the cargo was delivered.
The cocaine was likely also destined to reach Germany, where Bullrich said the suspected ringleader lives. She said she believed that German police would arrest the suspect.
Diplomatic bags, often transported by diplomatic couriers, are granted legal protections under the Vienna Convention to allow governments to send classified correspondence and items intended for official use to their embassies overseas. But the system, which is meant to be restricted to diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use, is widely abused, including in attempts to traffic drugs.
In 2012, Italy arrested five people after 40kg of cocaine was found smuggled in a diplomatic pouch from Ecuador, and 16kg of the drug was intercepted after it was sent to the United Nations in New York in a fake diplomatic bag. The same ruse was used by Nigerian drug gangs in an attempt to smuggle cocaine into Ireland in 2011.
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.