Amid claims and robust denials of a state rescue, speculation now surrounds the escape of two convicted French pilots and claimed cocaine traffickers from the Dominican Republic.
The protagonists of the case dubbed “Air Cocaine”, Pascal Fauret, 55, and Bruno Odos, 56, were sentenced to 20 years in jail for drug trafficking in August.
The pair were free to move around under judicial supervision pending an appeals court hearing. They say they escaped custody on a speedboat to the Franco-Dutch island of Saint-Martin on 19 October, before flying to Martinique and, from there, back home on Saturday.
A picture of the pair racing away from the island on a speedboat with another blurred-out individual surfaced on BFMTV, prompting speculation over possible accomplices.
Initial reports suggest Fauret and Odos had been dropped at sea by helicopter and picked up by boat. Then, there were claims a helicopter had been rented as a decoy to fool Dominican authorities. Fauret and Odos were arrested along with two other French nationals – Nicolas Pisapia and Alain Castany – in March 2013 while preparing to take off for St Tropez in a Falcon 50 jet. Some 26 suitcases, carrying 680kg of cocaine were discovered on board, and all four were imprisoned for 15 months while awaiting trial for drug trafficking. They deny knowing they were transporting cocaine.
Their lawyer Éric Dupond-Moretti said discussing details of the escape was “out of the question” and dispelled any suspicions the French government or secret services may have played a role. “This was a personal initiative. It was not a team of spooks paid by the French state,” he said.
Others disagree. BFMTV claimed an escape plan was organised with the help of retired marines and two former agents from the DGSE, France’s equivalent of MI6. The newspaper Le Figaro quoted security sources saying the operation in the Dominican Republic “was organised from Paris”.
Much focus was on the pilots’ claimed meeting with a Front National MEP and close adviser to the party’s leader Marine le Pen on the day of their escape. Aymeric Chauprade tweeted a photo of the meeting. While admitting he was aware of elements of the operation he has denied active involvement, dismissing a bill in his name for an option on a helicopter printed by the magazine Valeurs Actuelles.
Meanwhile, Mr Pisapia and Mr Castany, the two Frenchmen left behind in the Dominican Republic, said they are afraid the escape will jeopardise the appeal they are hoping will overturn their sentences. Mr Castany told Le Parisien newspaper it was “a nightmare” and that he felt like he had “been stabbed in the back” by the pilots.
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