Five passengers, carrying five suitcases, were caught smuggling almost 40kg of cocaine into Australia. Now the puppetmaster is facing justice.

In December of 2015, Border Force officers at Sydney Airport seized 37 kilograms of cocaine.

The drugs — with a staggering street value of $$24.2 million — were sealed in 81 packages, split between five suitcases and carried by five different passengers.

The extraordinary seizure blew apart an international cocaine smuggling scheme. The five passengers were all arrested and convicted in Australia.

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"This is a clear warning to people intending to take advantage of the busy holiday travel period that the AFP and the Australian Border Force will continue to work with our partners to stop the importation of drugs through our airports," the AFP's Airport Police Commander Sharon Cowden said, in a warning to other would-be criminals.

But for three years, the man behind the scheme remained at large overseas.

Yaroslav Pastukhov, also known as Slava Pastuk, when he worked for Vice. Photo / Supplied
Yaroslav Pastukhov, also known as Slava Pastuk, when he worked for Vice. Photo / Supplied

Police finally tracked down and arrested Yaroslav Pastukhov in January of this year. He had changed his name to Leonid Yari Farrow, and was living in Montreal.

Last month, Pastukhov pleaded guilty in court, copping to a charge of conspiracy to smuggle a commercial quantity of cocaine into Australia. He is due to be sentenced on October 31. Prosecutors want him locked behind bars for 12 years.

As far as he is concerned, the guilty plea frees him to speak out. And he's using that opportunity to take aim at the five co-conspirators who got caught.

"There are no victims here," Pastukhov said in a Twitter thread.


"Now that I've taken the plea, I can finally talk about what happened five years ago."

It started in 2015. Pastukhov was working as a music editor at Vice Media when he decided he could make more money smuggling cocaine.

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Canada's National Post has broken down the scheme that unfolded, as stipulated in court documents.

After travelling to Australia himself in November of that year, Pastukhov set about recruiting five smugglers, aged between 19 and 24, to make another trip.

Those mules were Robert Wang, Porscha Wade, Kutiba Senusi, Jordan Gardner and Nathaniel Carty.

The plan was quite elaborate. First, the smugglers met with a contact in Las Vegas to collect their luggage. Pastukhov made them hand the contact a $1 note with a specific serial number before they could take possession of the drugs.

The same thing was meant to happen in reverse once they reached Australia, but of course, they never made it through customs.

Months before Pastukhov was arrested, The Post published allegations from six people in Canada — not the five known smugglers — who claimed he had tried to recruit them as well.

Three of them had also worked for Vice Media. Each said he had offered them $10,700 to make the trip to Australia.

That was the carrot. Some of the arrested smugglers allege there was a stick as well.

Gardner, an electronic music artist who was Pastukhov's roommate, told court it was suggested his girlfriend could be hurt if he backed out of the operation.

"They got him to a situation where they pulled a gun to his head, they knew where his family lived. The family received death threats. They put him in a position where he couldn't return," said Gardner's lawyer, Eidan Havas.

Jordan Gardner, one of the recruits. Photo / Change.org
Jordan Gardner, one of the recruits. Photo / Change.org

Wang, who was pursuing a career in the music industry, alleges he received an ominous phone call from one of Pastukhov's associates when he tried to exit the plan.

He was told "bad things would happen" to both him and his family, and Pastukhov would kill of his music career.

In his tweets, Pastukhov claimed one of the co-conspirators was a "big fibber", though he didn't specify which one.

"Nobody involved in this was coerced, threatened or lied to (by me). They chased a bag that became known to them because of sources I uncovered. They may have pointed fingers to get less jail time, but everyone knew the purpose of those trips from the jump," he wrote.

"There was no intern funnel program to initiate people into vice. The truth is a little more nuanced and a lot more interesting than that. Everyone got involved for their own reasons."

Pastukhov is free on bail for now. Come October 31, he could find himself facing a lengthy stint in prison.