Seven convicted in French ‘Air Cocaine’ smuggling trial

In this file photo taken on February 18, 2019 French Jean Fauret (R) and Bruno Odos (C), respectively pilot and co-pilot, arrive at the Assize Court of Aix-En-Provence, southern France ahead of a court hearing in the trial over 'Air Cocaine' plot to smuggle planeload of drugs. (AFP)
Updated 06 April 2019

Seven convicted in French ‘Air Cocaine’ smuggling trial

  • Only Bouchareb was held in detention during the trial while the other eight had been granted bail

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France: A French court on Friday sentenced seven people implicated in a drug smuggling operation to up to 18 years in prison each with two ex-air force pilots getting six-year terms.
Pascal Fauret and Bruno Odos had fled the Dominican Republic following a raid on the private jet they were to fly to Saint-Tropez, southern France, but were re-arrested in France in November 2015.
In what has become known as the “Air Cocaine” case, Fauret and Odos were accused along with seven other defendants of trying to smuggle 680 kilogrammes (1,500 pounds) of the drug out of the country.
Two were acquitted following a seven-week trial.
Ringleader Ali Bouchareb was sentenced to 18 years in prison, while his right-hand man, Frank Colin, got 12 years.
Only Bouchareb was held in detention during the trial while the other eight had been granted bail.
Colin was the only defendant who had admitted to taking part in the smuggling operation but claimed he was in fact an “infiltrated agent.”
Dominican police found the drugs packed into 26 suitcases onboard a Falcon 50 jet as it was about to fly from the Dominican beach resort of Punta Cana to Saint-Tropez in March 2013.
While out on bail, Fauret and Odos managed to flee the Dominican Republic to French territory in the Caribbean in mysterious circumstances, but were re-arrested upon their return to the French mainland in November 2015.
They, along with two passengers, were found guilty in absentia and sentenced to 20 years in jail for drug-trafficking in the Dominican Republic in 2015.
On Friday, five French magistrates deliberated for 11 hours before handing down their verdict.
“It’s a scandal! It’s political! There is no justice...” screamed people close to the defendants as the verdict was announced.
Former customs agent Francois-Xavier Manchet was sentenced to five years in jail and barred from working again as a civil servant.


Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

Updated 18 min 12 sec ago

Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

  • Flights to and from Iran unaffected despite deaths
  • Health emergency declared in border districts 

KARACHI: Pakistan has sealed its Taftan border and stopped pilgrims from traveling via the crossing to Iran after six coronavirus deaths were reported in the neighboring country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
Afghanistan has also suspended travel to the neighboring country as fears across the region continued to grow over a jump in new coronavirus infections.
There are several shrines in Iran which are frequented by a large number of Shiites from Pakistan. Hundreds of people access the Taftan border crossing between the countries on a daily basis.
Pakistan has stopped all movement from crossing points, launched screening procedures and introduced additional patrols along the border “until the situation is under control,” Mir Zia Ullah Langove, home minister of southwestern Balochistan province, said.
“We are trying to take every possible precaution,” he told Arab News, adding that these were efforts being taken by the provincial government, with assurance from Prime Minister Imran Khan that the federal government would also be extending its help.
The move to seal the border follows Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan’s decision to declare a health emergency in all provincial districts bordering Iran on Saturday. But reports of the coronavirus deaths have had no impact on flights to and from Iran.
“The staff of the health ministry is already present at the airports and a passenger is allowed entry only after clearance of health declaration,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan spokesman, told Arab News as he dismissed reports of a temporary halt on flights to Iran.
“There is no reality in reports that flight operations to Iran have been stopped. We had neither stopped flight operations to and from China and nor will it be stopped to any other country.”
Imran Zarkon, who is chief of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said 1,000 masks had been distributed in border areas and a temporary hospital tent with 100-beds had been set up to deal with an emergency as part of preventive efforts.
“Qom is the most affected area of Iran where the pilgrims go, so if there is any possibility of virus coming to Pakistan it will be through Taftan and authorities here are on high alert,” he told Arab News.
But these steps have failed to console the people of Balochistan, with some expressing concern about illegal movement along the porous border.
“Iran shares over #1000 KM long porous border with #Balochistan #Pakistan, #coronaravirus deaths are alarming news for the region,” Sanallah Baloch, a Balochistan lawmaker, tweeted on Saturday. “Daily 100s of people cross these borders without formal procedures, region is poverty-stricken with no medical facility.”
In a statement released Sunday, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials to safeguard Pakistani nationals visiting the country.
Qadri also spoke to Dr. Zafar Mirza, state minister for health, on the deployment of medical teams to Taftan town along the border.
Iranian health authorities said 28 people were being treated for the virus in at least four different cities, including Tehran.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees currently live in the Islamic Republic — raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.
“To prevent the spread of the novel #coronavirus and protect the public, Afghanistan suspends all passenger movement (air and ground) to and from Iran,” the office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan said in a statement posted on Twitter.
A provincial official in Pakistan and the country’s Frontier Corps also confirmed that the country had sealed the land border with Iran.
Earlier Sunday, Iran reported eight deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest toll of any country outside China, as the supreme leader accused foreign media of trying to use the outbreak to sabotage a general election.
The latest three deaths Iran reported on Sunday were among 15 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, bringing the overall number of infections to 43 and fatalities to eight — the highest death toll outside of China, the epicenter of the epidemic.
Four new infections surfaced in the capital Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom, two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
Authorities have ordered as a “preventive measure” the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across Iran from Sunday.
Desperate and jobless Afghans have crossed the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support their struggling families back home.
But hundreds of thousands of Afghans have returned home in recent years as US sanctions have battered the Iranian economy.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a Facebook post on Sunday said the country is closing its border with Iran for two weeks and suspending air traffic after reports of coronavirus cases there.
(With AFP and Reuters)