Paris (AFP) - Two French pilots sentenced to 20 years in jail in the Dominican Republic for cocaine trafficking have managed to get out of the country and return home, their lawyer said in Paris.
Pascal Fauret, 55, and co-pilot Bruno Odos, whose age was not given, were among four Frenchmen handed 20-year terms in Santo Domingo in August in a case dubbed "Air Cocaine" in France.
But on Tuesday, they were back with their families in France, after slipping out of the Caribbean nation and travelling to the Franco-Dutch island of Saint Martin by boat before flying on to Martinique and then on to France, a source told AFP.
"They are in France not to flee justice but to seek justice," their lawyer Jean Reinhart told AFP.
"They are not escapees, because they were not in prison," he added, explaining that the pair were not being held in detention, though they were also not authorised to leave the Dominican Republic, pending a judicial appeal.
Exactly how they managed to leave the Dominican Republic remains shrouded in mystery.
Aymeric Chauprade, a European MP for France's far-right National Front (FN) who claims to have supported the men, said he had dined with the pilots on October 17 in a hotel in the Dominican Republic.
"They were determined to leave," he said.
At least one of the two pilots was expected to give a press conference at 2:00pm (1300 GMT) on Tuesday.
- 26 cocaine-filled suitcases -
They 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 mid-size Dassault Falcon 50 jet with 26 suitcases containing 680 kilogrammes (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 country.
At their trial, defence lawyers argued there was no proof the men knew the drugs were on the plane.
Fauret and Odos "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.
The aunt of Fauret's wife Sabine said from the pilot's home near the central city of Lyon: "I am delighted that the pilots, who are innocent, can be questioned in France and not in a so-called republic where justice does not exist."
Four Dominican locals have also been jailed for sentences ranging between five and 10 years in connection with the case.