Paris (AFP) - Two French pilots given 20-year jail sentences in the Dominican Republic for cocaine-trafficking slipped out of the country and went home "to clear their names", one of them said Tuesday, but the Caribbean nation said it would seek their re-arrest.
Pascal Fauret, 55, and co-pilot Bruno Odos, 56, were back with their families in France after travelling by boat from the Dominican Republic to the Franco-Dutch island of Saint Martin, before flying to Martinique and then on to France.
And France suggested Wednesday that the two pilots, who were among four Frenchmen sentenced in Santo Domingo in August in a case dubbed "Air Cocaine", would not be extradited.
Fauret told reporters in Paris he felt the men had no choice but to leave the Dominican Republic, where they were not being held in detention pending a judicial appeal.
"The justice system did not open an investigation, it did not listen to us and we were sentenced to 20 years in jail just because we're French and not good Christians," he said.
"I'm sorry, but my first instinct was to return to my country where I could speak before a functional justice system and try to go back to a normal life."
Their lawyer Jean Reinhart insisted the men had not "fled" the Dominican Republic.
"They are in France not to flee justice but to seek justice," he told AFP.
"They are not escapees, because they were not in prison," he added, explaining that although they were not in jail they had been barred from leaving the Dominican Republic pending the appeal.
Exactly how the pilots managed to leave remains shrouded in mystery.
Eric Dupond-Moretti, a high-profile lawyer representing the pilots, said he could not give details of their journey because "it was not done alone, there were other people involved".
But he said the men had left of their own accord, telling reporters: "It's no use imagining that a team of spooks was paid by the French state to facilitate this escape. That's not it at all."
The foreign ministry said the men had received no help from the French government.
- 26 suitcases of cocaine -
The Dominican Republic said it would seek an international warrant for the men's re-arrest.
Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito said Dominican authorities were also reviewing international protocols in a bid to force the pilots to return and face justice.
"We are in contact with the French authorities, not only to determine how they escaped the country and their accomplices, but also to make them assume their responsibility in (the Dominican Republic), regardless of any other cases that may arise in France," he said.
French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll hit back saying Paris would "apply the letter of the law. We do not extradite French citizens when they are on our territory."
"The French authorities have nothing to do with what happened," he told radio station RTL, referring to the pilots' escape.
The pilots were arrested in March 2013 along with two other men, Nicolas Pisapia and Alain Castany, as they were about to take off from the Dominican resort of Punta Cana.
Authorities said they were preparing to leave on a privately hired mid-size Dassault Falcon 50 jet with 26 suitcases containing 680 kilograms (1,500 pounds) of cocaine.
All four, who were in custody for 15 months while their case was being heard, have protested their innocence. Pisapia and Castany are still in the Dominican Republic.
"I want to come out clean from all this, that's why I'm here to fight until the end," Pisapia told AFP by telephone. "I want to leave here legally, having proved my innocence."
At their trial, defence lawyers argued there was no proof the men knew the drugs were on the plane.
Fauret and Odos "have left the territory of a country where justice does not exist", said their lawyer, Reinhart.
"They are not trying to evade justice," he insisted. "The first thing they did upon their return was to write to the magistrate" in charge of their case in France.
Four Dominican locals have also been jailed for sentences ranging between five and 10 years in connection with the case.