February 4, 2019 6:21 pm
Updated: February 4, 2019 6:22 pm

RCMP charge former VICE journalist with conspiring to import cocaine to Australia

Australian Federal Police are seen at Sydney Airport in this July 30, 2017 file photo. RCMP say they arrested two men who conspired to import cocaine into Sydney, with the help of information from Australian police.

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A former music editor for VICE Canada is among two people arrested by the RCMP and charged with conspiring to import cocaine to Australia.

Yaroslav Pastukhov, 28, had been residing in Montreal under an alias, the RCMP said. The formerly Toronto-based journalist, who wrote for VICE’s music website Noisey under the pen name Slava Pastuk, was arrested on Jan. 31.

Ali Taki Lalji, 30, of Toronto was also arrested the same day.

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The pair are accused of conspiring with four Canadians and an American to smuggle cocaine into Australia in December 2015. The alleged drug mules were intercepted at Sydney International Airport with nearly 40 kilograms of cocaine.

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The drug couriers were all in their 20s and most of them agreed to carry the cocaine reluctantly and under duress, the Sydney Morning Herald reported in 2017, citing a statement of agreed facts presented in the New South Wales District Court.

Some of them were reportedly threatened by Pastukhov and conspirators when they tried to back out of the smuggling plot, the court heard.

“I am very firmly of the view that these offenders were exploited by people who were ruthless, persistent and manipulative in recruiting them,” a judge said according to the Herald.

The five individuals received prison sentences ranging from three years to seven-and-a-half years.

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Mounties in the Greater Toronto Area arrested Pastukhov and Lalji on Jan. 31 after working with Australian federal police to obtain evidence of the conspiracy to import cocaine, authorities said.

Pastukhov was scheduled to appear in court Monday in Toronto. Lalji is scheduled for a bail hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

Both men are charged with conspiracy to import cocaine.

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