Latin America & Caribbean

'Air Cocaine' drug-trafficking trial starts in France

Pascal Fauret (right) and Bruno Odos arrive on 18 February, 2019 at the Assize Court of Aix-En-Provence Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pascal Fauret (right) and Bruno Odos appeared in court on Monday

Two former air force pilots have gone on trial in France almost six years after 26 suitcases stashed with cocaine were found on board their plane in the Dominican Republic.

The two Frenchmen, Pascal Fauret and Bruno Odos, were arrested and sentenced in the Caribbean nation but fled to the French Antilles while on bail.

They were re-arrested after they reached the French mainland.

Seven other defendants are also facing charges over the same case.

They could face up to 30 years in jail if found guilty.

The case, which was quickly dubbed "Air Cocaine", first hit the headlines in March 2013 when Dominican police opened the suitcases on board a Falcon jet in the resort town of Punta Cana to find them stuffed with 680kg (1,500lb) of cocaine.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The cocaine was found in neat packages inside suitcases on board the plane

The plane bound for Saint-Tropez in the south of France was grounded and the two pilots and two passengers arrested.

All four said they had had no idea the suitcases were filled with narcotics. But a Dominican judge ruled they were responsible for what was on board their plane and sentenced them to 20 years in jail.

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While under house arrest pending an appeal against their sentence, Fauret and Odos fled the Dominican Republic.

They reportedly escaped with the help of former French intelligence agents who spirited them to the French Antilles aboard a boat and on to a flight to Paris.

At the time of the arrest in France, their lawyer said the pilots had returned to France "not to flee justice but to seek justice".

In 2015, a court in the Dominican Republic upheld the 20-year sentence for the two pilots and the two passengers in absentia.

The trial is expected to take seven weeks.

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