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‘Air Cocaine’ trial to begin in France

media French pilots Bruno Odos (left) and Pascal Fauret after hearing their 20 year prison sentences in the Dominican Republic, 15 August 2015. AFP/Erika Santelices

The trial of two French pilots and seven others accused of trying to smuggle 700kg of cocaine from the Dominican Republic and France was to open in the city of Aix-en-Provence on Monday.

Bruno Odos and Pascal Fauret, two former fighter pilots, were arrested at Punta Cana airport in the Dominican Republic in March 2013 after 20 suitcases stuffed with cocaine was found on board the Falcon 50 jet they were preparing to fly to the French Mediterranean city of Saint-Tropez.

Two passengers, French businessmen Nicolas Pisapia and Alain Castany, were also arrested. The four suspects claimed they were innocent of wrongdoing. They were convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2015.

In October of the same year, Odos and Fauret were broken out of the prison and returned to France in a bizarre commando operation led by former friends in the French armed services.

The operation was led by Aymeric Chauprade, who was at the time a member of the European parliament with the far-right National Front (now National Rally) party. Chauprade has since left the party.

Christophe Naudin, an expert in air safety, was also part of the prison break. He was arrested in Egypt and extradited to the Dominican Republic in 2016, sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 and transferred to France for health reasons in 2018. He was freed from detention last May and is expected to testify at the trial in Aix-en-Provence.

In May 2016, Ali Bouchareb, presumed mastermind of the operation, was arrested in Spain on charges for smuggling cocaine from Latin America.

Eleven suspects are suspected of involvement in the Air Cocaine case in all. Nine are in court, as Pisapia remains in the Dominican Republic and Bouchareb is not contesting his implication.

The trial is expected to last until 5 April.

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