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Suriname leader’s son pleads guilty to courting Hezbollah

© AFP | Surinam leader Desi Bouterse in Paramaribo in 2009.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-08-30

The son of Surinamese President Desi Bouterse (pictured) pleaded guilty on Friday to US charges he sought to offer a home base in his South American country to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Dino Bouterse, once picked by his father to lead a counter-terrorism unit in Suriname, told a judge in Manhattan that as part of the scheme he provided a false Surinamese passport to a person he believed was a Hezbollah operative. He also pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and firearms charges.

"In 2013, I knowingly provided a false Surinamese passport to a person I believed to be associated with Hezbollah, an organisation I knew to be designated a terrorist organisation by the United States," Bouterse, 41, said in federal court.

The guilty plea came a year after Bouterse’s arrest in Panama on charges he conspired to smuggle cocaine into the United States. He had already been extradited to the United States and jailed when authorities added terrorism charges accusing him of agreeing to accept a multimillion-dollar payoff in exchange for allowing large numbers of Hezbollah fighters to use Suriname as a base for attacking American targets.

An indictment detailed an elaborate international sting in which Bouterse was recorded meeting in Greece and Panama with people posing as Hezbollah operatives and Mexican drug traffickers. The operatives were actually confidential sources and undercover agents with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the indictment said.

At a meeting last year in Greece, the indictment said, Bouterse agreed to take a down payment of $2 million. In return, he said he would help Hezbollah fighters settle in Suriname, give them fake identities and arm them with surface-to-air missiles and other weapons for attacks on the US and the Netherlands, Suriname’s former colonial ruler.

Hezbollah ‘tough guys’

Bouterse also told the American agents that he was interested in using Hezbollah “tough guys” for operations inside Suriname.

“We need a little fort that we can depend on. And we can call them at any time,” he said, according to the indictment.

The US State Department designated Hezbollah a foreign terrorist organisation in 1997.

Bouterse’s father led a military dictatorship in Suriname in the 1980s, then returned to power when he was elected president by the country’s parliament in 2010. He has been accused of human rights violations, dating to the period when the country was under military rule, and he was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands on drug trafficking charges in 1999.

Desi Bouterse has previously said he was shocked by his son’s arrest but added he was “responsible for his own actions”. The son faces a prison term of 15 years to life at sentencing on January 6.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-08-30

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