The Dominican Republic has arrested 35 security officials in connection with a drug shipment, exposing the level of corruption in the country, and challenging assertions by the US that drug flights from the island have "all but disappeared."
The National Drugs Control Agency (DNCD) seized 680 kilos of cocaine from an executive airplane at the Punta Cana airport in the early morning of March 19, reported Hoy Digital. The drugs were stashed in 28 suitcases on a plane bound for France, according to DNCD head General Rolando Rosado Mateo.
During the operation, DNCD officials arrested the four French crew members of the plane and 35 security officials from the DNCD itself, the National Investigation Department (DNI), the Specialized Airport Security Corps (CESA) and the immigration agency -- though immigration officials denied that members of their agency had been detained in connection with the case, according to Listin Diario.
Rosado reported that over the course of a six-month investigation, the authorities found that the DNCD head of airport security and other officials had received at least $60,000 in bribes. These officials were allegedly linked to a trafficking network that moved drugs from the Dominican Republic to various countries in Europe. DNCD authorities were tipped off by reports from France, Holland, Belgium and other European countries regarding the seizure of drug shipments coming from the Punta Cana airport.
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The Caribbean appears to be regaining importance to drug traffickers, with US officials observing a shift back to the use of Caribbean sea routes for drug trafficking in 2012, and noting an increased number of drug flights stopping on Caribbean islands.
The Dominican Republic is already on track for a record year in cocaine seizures in 2013, following two seizures in January that amounted to over a quarter of the total cocaine seized in 2012.
According to the US State Department, drug traffickers usually use maritime routes to move cocaine bound for North America and Europe through the Dominican Republic, while drug flights have "all but but disappeared" following successful interceptions. US Embassy official Daniel Foote reiterated this in February, around the same time that the DNCD announced it would place a greater emphasis on maritime surveillance.
The current case shows that significant quantities of drugs are still being trafficked by air. It also highlights the role of government corruption in the Dominican Republic's increased importance as an international drug trafficking hub. Another example of both air trafficking and official corruption was uncovered in October 2012, when officials dismantled a drug trafficking ring that moved cocaine from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic using commercial flights and military connections.
Corruption among public officials led to the removal of 77 DNCD officers in 2012, as well as the creation of new vetting and incentive schemes.