Surinam pres involved in drug trade

Bert Wilkinson | 9/26/2013, 1:40 p.m.

Desi Bouterse has for decades denied any involvement in the international narcotics trade, even dismissing a 1999 conviction by a Dutch court for similar offenses as a charade, describing the charges against him as revenge for the 1980 military coup against the government in the former Dutch colony.

But now, authorities in the U.S. say they have strong evidence to prove that the current president of Suriname indeed has links to the drug trade through convicted Guyanese smuggler Shaheed “Roger” Khan, who is serving a 15-year sentence in a California prison.

The allegations from agents in the Drug Enforcement Administration come a few weeks after agents snatched his son, Dino Bouterse, 41, in Panama, flew him to New York and hauled him before an Eastern District judge on international smuggling charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty. With the cooperation of enforcement authorities in Trinidad, they also nabbed an associate of his in Port of Spain, the capital. Until his arrest, he was the head of an elite security unit in Suriname.

Dutch media house NRC and RTL Nieuws reported over the weekend that they have copies of secret American diplomatic cables outlining the relationship between Desi Bouterse, 66, and former Guyanese kingpin Khan while Khan was parading himself as the richest businessman in his native Guyana and heading up a private security force that was blamed for executing about 200 criminal suspects a decade ago.

The media houses say that Dino Bouterse allegedly crossed the Surinamese border with neighboring Guyana and met Khan on a few occasions, arranging protection for illegal activities, including guns and drugs. Desi Bouterse, who was elected head of state in July of 2010 and plans to run again in 2015, has denied the charges.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Suriname Marsha Barnes alleged that Desi Bouterse was in league with Khan for the money but argued that he was forced into an alliance with Khan because the then minister of justice had tightened the noose on the Surinamese drug trade, forcing Desi Bouterse to make alternative arrangements to fund normal operations.

The explosive allegations and the arrest of Dino Bouterse have certainly put a dent in his aspirations for the 2015 polls, but the senior Bouterse, still very popular with younger Surinamese and head of the largest single political force in Suriname, says he is determined to run again and could likely win.

Still, if allegations from the U.S. and the Dutch that they have the digital printout of satellite phones used by Khan and Desi Bouterse hold true, critics say that would constitute damming evidence against the Surinamese head of state.

Apart from the arrest of Dino Bouterse, authorities in the Netherlands say that renewed interest in the two has much to do with the impending trial of a Dutch kingpin in the coming weeks. Khan is scheduled to testify by Skype or other video conferencing methods. It is unclear if he will be forced to answer any questions about Desi Bouterse.