Russian embassy officials may have been involved in a massive cocaine operation, in a crime that appears to be more akin to a John le Carré novel than real life.
But despite the fantastic story, The Daily Beast reported that the accusations have some serious merit behind them. Chief among them is a massive drug bust in 2016 at the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
According to official accounts, six men managed to hide around $60 million and almost 400 kilograms worth of drugs within the securely guarded facility -- only to be foiled by a joint operation conducted by both Russian and Argentinian law enforcement.
However, insiders have leaked documents to The Daily Beast that suggest that the public bust was actually a way to cover up the misdeeds of Russian officials much higher up on the chain of command.
"According to our information, some members of the Russian embassy in Argentina... were aware of drug-related activities and were associated with the drug mafia," explained a U.S. federal drug enforcement agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"At some point there was a leak. The Argentinian authorities found out about the cocaine and contacted the embassy, after which the Russian side decided it was safer to 'find' the drugs. The scandal was resolved at a diplomatic level and no real investigation was conducted by Argentina," the source added.
There have been a number of inconsistencies with the operation that would suggest something underhanded. For example, Argentinean Security Minister Patricia Bullrich had originally claimed the gang was planning on using Russian diplomatic courier service to fly the cocaine out of the country. However, this was vehemently denied by Russia's Foreign Ministry (via The Local).
Moreover, images tweeted from the bust by Argentinean police revealed that the plane that was supposed to be used as transport looked to belong to security council chief Nikolai Patrushev. The Kremlin once again denied any involvement.
Andrei Kovalchuk, the man who was deemed the mastermind of the plot, has since claimed that the deputy director of the Consular Department, Alexander Nezimov, was one of his "bosses."
Last but not least, the chief adviser of the Latin American Department of the Foreign Ministry, Peter Polshikov, was found dead -- reportedly from a self-inflicted gunshot -- in his apartment in Moscow three weeks before the drugs were found.
All the inconsistencies have analysts wondering if there is more to the story. One former FSB agent does not discount the fact that Russian intelligence was using a narco-trafficking network throughout the continent as an additional way to finance clandestine missions.
"It's not uncommon for the Russian services to engage in questionable behavior to keep a 'black budget' going for something highly classified and sensitive," he concluded.