The son of the president of Suriname has been arrested on US drug and weapon charges.
Dino Bouterse, director of Suriname's anti-terrorism unit, was arrested in Panama by local authorities and turned over to US agents, said Preet Bharara, US attorney for the Southern District of New York.
His arrest came as his father Desi Bouterse, a former coup leader and himself convicted of drug offences, hosted the annual UNASUR summit for leaders of South American countries. Officials in Suriname have announced that the opening statement by Desi Bouterse would be postponed by several hours.
Dino Bouterse pleaded not guilty before Magistrate Judge James Francis in Manhattan federal court after being flown to New York . Prosecutors asked that Bouterse be held and the request was not immediately opposed. Bouterse's court lawyer Christopher Flood declined to comment. A hearing was set for September 9.
Bouterse faces a US federal indictment claiming he worked with a man identified as Edmund Muntslag to smuggle cocaine into the United States starting in or about December 2011. It also charges him with breaking firearms laws by brandishing a light anti-tank weapon during the drugs offence. The indictment says Bouterse was involved in smuggling a suitcase filled with 22lbs of cocaine aboard a commercial flight from Suriname to the Caribbean in late July.
He was arrested at Panama's main international airport shortly after arriving in the Central American country, apparently on personal business, the government said. Federal prosecutors said Muntslag was arrested on Thursday in the Caribbean island of Trinidad.
Bouterse's father is a convicted drug trafficker who was elected president of Suriname in July 2010. Shortly after his inauguration, President Bouterse appointed his son as director of Suriname's Counter Terrorist Unit, drawing heavy criticism from opposition legislators who expressed concern that no legal framework was created for the unit to operate.
In August 2002, prosecutors in Suriname charged Dino Bouterse with stealing 50 guns from the government intelligence service. Police at the time accused Bouterse of fleeing to Curacao to avoid arrest, although his father said Bouterse had travelled there for personal business. A year later prosecutors dropped charges, citing a lack of evidence. Police detained the younger Bouterse again in September 2004 after seizing a large number of assault weapons, ammunition and 2.2lbs of cocaine from a local car spares shop. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in August 2005 after a judge found him guilty of leading a ring that trafficked in cocaine, illegal arms and stolen luxury cars. He was freed in 2008.
The president, a two-time dictator who first seized power during a 1980 coup, was convicted in absentia in 1999 on drug trafficking charges by a court in the Netherlands. At home, he and 24 associates face trial on charges of killing 15 prominent political opponents in 1982, but the case has been stalled while courts determine if they are covered by an amnesty law adopted last year.
Bouterse senior has said he intends to run for a second elected term as the 2015 elections approach. The former Dutch colony of some 560,000 people is located on the shoulder of South America. Its economy relies largely on exports of alumina, gold and oil, although roughly 70% of is population lives below the poverty level.