SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The son of the president of the South American country of Suriname has been arrested on U.S. drug and weapon charges, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Dino Bouterse, director of Suriname’s anti-terrorism unit, was arrested Thursday in Panama by local authorities and turned over to U.S. agents, said Preet Bharara, U.S. 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 offenses, hosted the annual UNASUR summit for leaders of South American countries. Officials in Suriname announced Friday that the opening statement by Desi Bouterse would be postponed by several hours.
Local government officials have declined further comment.
Dino Bouterse pleaded not guilty on Friday afternoon before Magistrate Judge James C. Francis in Manhattan federal court after being flown to New York late Thursday. Prosecutors asked that Bouterse be held, and the request was not immediately opposed.
Bouterse’s court attorney Christopher Flood declined to comment outside court. A hearing was set for Sept. 9.
“Bouterse is a significant drug trafficker,” said Derek Maltz, special agent-in-charge with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Bouterse faces a U.S. federal indictment alleging he worked with a man identified as Edmund Quincy Muntslag to smuggle cocaine into the United States starting in or about December 2011. It also charges him with violating firearms laws by brandishing a light anti-tank weapon during the narcotics offense.
The indictment says Bouterse was involved in smuggling a suitcase filled with 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of cocaine aboard a commercial flight from Suriname to the Caribbean in late July.
Bouterse was arrested at Panama’s main international airport shortly after arriving in the Central American country, apparently on personal business, the government said in a statement.
Federal prosecutors said Muntslag was arrested 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, 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 2011, unit officials were criticized for acting as police officers when they killed two men suspected in several violent crimes.
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 traveled 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 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine from a local auto 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 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 percent of is population lives below the poverty level.
Associated Press reporters Larry Neumeister in New York, Ben Fox in Miami, Alicia Caldwell in Washington D.C., Juan Zamorano in Panama City, Panama, and Arney Belfor in Paramaribo, Suriname, contributed to this report.