Pastuk, whose real name is Yuroslav Pastukhov, had been living under an alias in Montreal when he was arrested by Royal Canadian Mounted Police in February this year. According to an agreed statement of facts, he told one of his couriers that he “stumbled” on the drug ring scheme while searching for a story in his role as an editor and writer for Vice magazine’s online music publication, Noisey.
In early November 2015 he travelled to Australia with his co-conspirator Ali Lalji and another friend Isa “Pope” Cargill. On his return to Toronto, he recruited five mules aged between 19 and 24 to do the next trip. Four would travel in pairs and one would travel alone.
They would fly to Las Vegas, buy “burner” phones and supply the numbers to Pastuk, who would arrange for a contact known as “Bruce Lee” to call them and organise a meeting place. At the meeting, they would hand “Bruce Lee” a $1 bill whose serial number was known to Pastuk. Once “Bruce Lee” had checked the serial number, he would give the couriers some luggage.
In Sydney, the couriers were required to repeat the operation in reverse, this time checking that the serial number on a $5 bill held by their contacts matched a number supplied to them by Pastuk before handing over the luggage. But the operation never got that far.
As the mules drifted into Sydney Airport with matching Samsonite bags three days before Christmas, they were arrested one after the other. Police discovered nearly 40 kilograms of cocaine, with a street value of $22.6 million, concealed in the lining of their suitcases. Each attributed their actions to naivete and fear.
Aspiring model Porscha Wade told the Sydney District Court at her sentence that she initially believed she was heading to Australia for a photo shoot.
Jordan Gardner was recruited by Vice magazine’s music editor Slava Pastuk to run drugs from Canada to Sydney.Credit:change.org
Pastuk’s flatmate, electronic music DJ Jordan Gardner, said Pastuk had “pestered” him into doing the trip and then threatened the life of his girlfriend when he tried to pull out.
Events planner Ketiba Senusi said he was dragooned into the operation under threat of razor blades beneath his fingernails after the friend he planned to accompany was yanked out on account of his criminal record.
Robert Wang, who had recently completed a three-month internship at Vice and wanted to break into music promotions, told police he had initiated contact with Pastuk to discuss promoting some emerging artists. Pastuk had another idea. Would Wang like to go to Australia? Pastuk had done it himself, he told Wang, and it was good money. All he had to do was bring some “things” over there. The truth soon emerged.
New Yorker Nathanial Carty, described by Judge Dina Yehia in the NSW District Court as “the most naive of the offenders”, thought the free trip was part of the delightful windfall he had learned to expect since his modelling career took off.
Sentenced to between three and four years in prison, some of them have already been released. But Pastuk, who remains free on bail, rejected their accounts when he took to Twitter after pleading guilty to conspiring to import a commercial quantity of cocaine last month.
“Nobody involved in this was coerced, threatened or lied to (by me),” he said. “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.”
One of the people who had been arrested was a “Big Fibber”, Pastuk tweeted. “I’m not some cartel power broker.”
Pastuk also addressed a 2017 investigation by Canada’s National Post newspaper, which quoted numerous unnamed journalists who worked as Vice saying he had approached them to take parcels to Australia in return for spending money and $10,000 on their return. Pastuk was sacked by the publication in 2016.
Porscha Wade was the last drug mule to be sentenced over the operation.
“There was no intern funnel program to initiate people into vice,” Pastuk said. “The truth is a little more nuanced and a lot more interesting than that. Everyone got involved for their own reasons.”
Pastuk will be sentenced in the Ontario Court of Justice on October 31.
Harriet Alexander is a reporter for the Herald.
Most Viewed in National