Four Frenchmen jailed in Dominican Republic for drug running

Four Frenchmen jailed in Dominican Republic for drug running

Santo Domingo (AFP) - Four Frenchmen have been sentenced to prison terms of 20 years for drug trafficking in the Dominican Republic, a punishment a French official said Saturday was "very heavy."

Pilot Pascal Fauret, co-pilot Bruno Odos, passenger Nicolas Pisapia and alleged broker Alain Castany were arrested in March 2013 as they were about to take off from the Caribbean resort of Punta Cana.

Dominican authorities said they were preparing to leave on a mid-size Dassault Falcon 50 jet with 26 suitcases carrying 680 kilograms (1,500 pounds) of cocaine.

After deliberations lasting 10 hours on Friday, the court found the men guilty of the "crime of associating to ... possess illegal drugs."

Of the 10 Dominicans charged with complicity in the case, six were acquitted and four others given sentences ranging from five to 10 years in prison.

The lawyer for the French pilots, Maria Elena Gratereaux, said she would appeal.

The Frenchmen have always protested their innocence and had argued they did not know the drugs were on the plane.

"I just want to repeat once again that I am innocent," said 40-year-old Pisapia in court, speaking in Spanish. He was accused of masterminding the operation.

The long-delayed trial was dubbed in French media as the "Air Cocaine" affair.

Olivier Cadic, France's senator representing overseas nationals, called Saturday for a "greater involvement of French democracy" in the case.

In a statement, Cadic said he "deplores" the sentencing and suggested the foreign ministry should update its travel guidance for visitors to the Dominican Republic, warning them of "judicial instability."

Christine Odos, sister of one of the pilots, told AFP on Saturday that she was "angry, overwhelmed, disgusted" by the sentences and said she would ask France's politicians to intervene.

For its part, the French foreign ministry said it would follow the case closely and noted that the sentences were "very heavy" but "not definitive."