'Air Cocaine' drug-trafficking trial opens in France

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The trial has opened in Aix-en-Provence of nine people, including two former French military pilots, a customs officer and a celebrity bodyguard, accused of running a trans-Atlantic cocaine smuggling scam between the Dominican Republic and France using a Dassault executive jet, in a case marked by intrigue and derring-do escapes.

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Sitting on the asphalt at Punta Cana international airport in the Dominican Republic, the private plane was about to take off for an overnight flight to Saint-Tropez in France when police swooped, reports The Guardian.

Inside the aircraft, a Dassault Falcon 50, officers found four Frenchmen – two pilots and two passengers – along with 680kg of cocaine, with an estimated street value of 20 million euros (£17.5m), in 26 battered suitcases.

Six years later, the trial of nine people accused of being part of a drug smuggling operation began in Aix-en-Provence, southern France, on Monday. Among the accused were two former French military pilots, a customs officer and a celebrity bodyguard.

All of the accused deny involvement in drug smuggling in a case that has come to be known as the “Air Cocaine” affair.

Suspicion was first raised in 2012 when French gendarmes received an anonymous tip suggesting the Falcon 50 had made two transatlantic trips suspected to be trial runs for a smuggling operation.

When Dominican police halted a flight in March 2013, the two pilots, Pascal Fauret, 58, and Bruno Odos, 59, as well as the two passengers, Alain Castany, 71, a former pilot and described as the “owner” of the suitcases, and Nicolas Pisapia, the “bag carrier”, were arrested. But the drama did not end there.

After a Dominican court sentenced the four men to 20 years in prison in August 2015, they were released and given leave to appeal while placed under house arrest.

Shortly afterwards, Fauret and Odos escaped with the help of friends in what they called “Operation Dîner en Ville” (dinner in town), making their getaway by speedboat then yacht to the French-Dutch island of Saint Martin and on to Fort-de-France, the capital of the French island Martinique. They arrived back in mainland France in the autumn of 2015, where they were arrested.

Read more of this report from The Guardian.

 

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