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February 02, 2017

Report: Ex-Vice Canada editor solicited young staff, artists to be international drug mules

Investigation Media
020217_Vicelogo Source/Vice Media

Vice Media.

A former music editor at Vice Canada has been implicated in a scheme to recruit young journalists and musicians to act as drug mules in a dangerous international syndicate, according to a bombshell report published Thursday by The National Post.

Yaroslav Pastukhov, who published as Slava Pastuk while editor for Noisey Canada, allegedly approached multiple staff members and interns about an opportunity to make $10,000 in exchanges for carrying large quantities of cocaine in suitcases from Las Vegas to Australia.

Five people who accepted Pastukhov's alleged offer, including up-and-coming artist Jordan Gardner of the electronic duo Èbony, were caught and jailed in Australia in Dec. 2015 after airport authorities discovered cocaine valued between $5.1 million to $6.6 million hidden in the group's suitcases.

Gardner and three others have all pleaded guilty to crimes that could imprison them for life, while the fifth defendant pleaded not guilty. Those who submitted guilty pleas are set to go to trial next week.

Pastukhov, 26, was fired by Vice Canada in Feb. 2016 following an internal investigation of the allegations conducted with the aid of an outside criminal law firm. He has not been charged with any crimes in connection to the allegations against him, which he has strenuously denied.

According to The National Post, several Vice interns and staff members past and present have come forward with stories about how Pasukhov approached them with a vague offer they initially believed was an assignment. These accounts, detailed in the report, follow a similar pattern in which Pastukhov allegedly enticed young journalists with an opportunity to travel and make quick money doing something he claimed he had done himself on at least one occasion.

Vice, founded in Montreal as a magazine in 1994, emerged as a countercultural authority by advancing an edgy, new journalism style reminiscent of the 1960's but rooted in the alternative, underground ethos that rose to prominence with the proliferation of independent media in the 1990's and 2000's. 

The company, headquartered in New York since the late nineties, has in recent years attracted major investments from Fox and Disney, establishing a foothold in television with the launch of Viceland and thriving as a source of global investigative reporting and documentaries.

The report from The National Post poses question about whether the company's newsroom culture became permissive enough to enable editors such as Pastukhov to take advantage of a seeming tolerance of routine drug use. 

Members of Vice management who were contacted by the Canadian media outlet rejected the notion that the company would professionally condone such behavior, while those who provided their accounts said they never approached Vice about Pastukhov's alleged offer for fear of what might happen to them.

The full report from The National Post can be read here.