The National Security Service (NSS) said on May 17 the cocaine was discovered in boxes of fruit imported by an Armenian company, Mrgeni, from Ecuador via Panama, Italy and Georgia.
Mrgeni, which specializes in banana imports, is widely linked with Mihran Poghosian, the former head of an Armenian state body enforcing judicial acts. He fled to Russia in 2019 shortly before being charged with embezzlement.
In a video message circulated last week, Poghosian claimed that Mrgeni employees found the drug stashed in a consignment of bananas and had nothing to do with the smuggling. He said that he personally informed the NSS director, Armen Abazian, about that in a phone call that took place before the official announcement of the drug bust.
Poghosian went on to publicize a video that purportedly shows the discovery by workers of the cocaine at a Mrgeni warehouse in Yerevan.
The NSS refused to comment on his claims before announcing on Tuesday that Poghosian, Mrgeni’s nominal owner Levon Atajanian, warehouse manager Samvel Galstian and another employee have been charged with drug trafficking. It said a prosecutor overseeing the investigation arrested Atajanian and Galstian and issued an international arrest warrant for Poghosian.
Poghosian, who was an influential figure in Armenia’s former leadership, did not immediately respond to the accusations. Russian authorities refused to extradite him when he was first indicted in 2019.
The NSS did not clarify whether it is also investigating Armenian customs officers’ failure to detect the huge amount of cocaine smuggled to the country. Some opposition figures have speculated that Armenian government or law-enforcement officials were also involved in the smuggling operation.
The NSS reported the seize of the cocaine one day after police in Italy confiscated 2.7 tons of “extremely pure” cocaine which they said was destined for Armenia. The haul was found in refrigerated banana containers shipped to the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro from Ecuador.