‘Air Cocaine’ Frenchman to appear before Dominican judge
Issued on: Modified:
A Frenchman accused of aiding the dramatic escape of two pilots convicted of drug trafficking in a case dubbed "Air Cocaine” is due to appear before a Dominican judge Tuesday.
The preliminary hearing, where prosecutors will formally present charges against 53-year-old Christophe Naudin, is set to determine whether there is enough evidence for a trial to take place.
Looking haggard and unshaven and escorted by over 50 officers in a motorcade, Naudin arrived in the Dominican Republic’s capital Santo Domingo on Friday following his extradition from Egypt where he was arrested last month.
Naudin, a criminologist and aviation security expert, was sought by the Caribbean nation on suspicion of helping pilots Pascal Fauret and Bruno Odos flee to France in October after they had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug trafficking.
The pair, who maintain their innocence, were arrested in March 2013 as they were about to depart from Punta Cana in a private jet found to be carrying 680 kilograms (1,500 pounds) of cocaine.
Convicted of drug trafficking in August, they were released pending appeal but barred from leaving the Caribbean nation.
They somehow managed to flee and return to France – an escape that Dominican prosecutors allege Naudin facilitated.
Naudin has admitted in the media that he helped the men flee.
Potential preventative measures for his detention will be examined at the hearing, which was scheduled to have been held late last week but was postponed so that Naudin could appear before a judge with both an attorney and a translator.
The public prosecutor has requested that the court impose "coercive measures" which could include detention from between three months to a year.
French MEP wanted
Dubbed “Air Cocaine”, the case has sparked massive media interest in France as well as criticism of Dominican Republic’s judiciary, as the judge who granted the pilots’ looser terms was subsequently charged with taking bribes in a corruption case linked to contract killings.
Fauret and Odos fled back to France vowing to clear their names, but were rearrested in November near the French city of Lyon.
On February 11, an appeals court in the Dominican Republic upheld the 20-year prison sentences for the two pilots.
Paris has ruled out extraditing them.
A French member of the European parliament, Aymeric Chauprade, is also wanted in the Dominican Republic over the case, as is Pierre Malinowski, an assistant of France’s veteran far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen at the parliament.
The two had also told media they helped the pilots escape.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)