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19 Aug, 2022 00:01

$13 million gold heist busted at Moscow airport

Russian customs stopped a plot to smuggle dozens of gold bars to Dubai by swapping suitcases
$13 million gold heist busted at Moscow airport

An international conspiracy to smuggle 225 kilograms of gold worth an estimated 760 billion rubles (roughly $12.7 million) through Moscow was thwarted by sharp-eyed customs agents, the Federal Customs Service (FTS) of Russia announced on Thursday.

The scheme involved two groups of three travelers who swapped suitcases inside Vnukovo Airport. The group, bound for the United Arab Emirates, was caught with a number of gold bars in their bags.

The attempted heist took place on August 11, the FTS said in a statement. According to the customs service, three Armenian nationals smuggled the gold into the airport in their carry-on luggage. Since Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, they were not subject to customs controls. Once inside, however, they traded suitcases with a trio of Russian citizens, who had come in with empty baggage. The Russians were en route to Dubai in the UAE.

Customs officers monitoring the airport’s security cameras, however, noticed something strange – three passengers dragging their wheeled suitcases with considerable effort. They began following the trio and saw them swapping bags with the other men, proceeding to the gate for their Yerevan flight with much more spring in their step. The customs inspectors decided to do a spot check on the passengers headed to the UAE, who had already boarded their flight.

“The smugglers with the valuable cargo were detained by Vnukovo customs operatives after boarding their plane,” the FTS said.

After stepping on board and checking the suspects’ bags, customs officers found 45 gold bars, the FTS said in the initial report. None of them had been declared or cleared customs inspection. All had the legally mandated serial numbers and other identification marks. The newspaper Kommersant later reported that the haul amounted to a total of 71 gold bars – 14 ingots of 12kg each and 57 smaller, one-kilo bars. 

Prosecutors said they intend to charge the group with three felonies, including criminal conspiracy and smuggling of goods designated of strategic importance.

A Moscow court ordered the three Armenian nationals jailed until September 11. They were identified as Artak Ayvazyan, Karen Darbinyan and Arman Harutyunyan, officially unemployed. Their attorneys made a motion to keep them under house arrest instead, but the court denied it. The Russian citizens were released pending trial after signing statements that they would not leave Moscow.