Few are likely to dispute that the timing of last weekend’s arrest of the son of Surinamese President Desi Bouterse on alleged cocaine and arms trafficking charges by American federal agents was not done to embarrass the head of state. Dino Bouterse was nabbed at Panama’s main international airport just as his father was preparing to preside over a summit of South American leaders back home.
Both the senior Bouterse and Foreign Minister Winston Lackin were forced to publicly acknowledge the arrest of Dino Bouterse, his immediate transfer to the U.S. and his arraignment in a Manhattan court, where he pleaded not guilty to allegedly importing more than five kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. in the past two years.
Until his surprise arrest, Dino Bouterse had been running the Caribbean trade bloc nation’s special intelligence unit, though authorities quickly tried to distance the coalition government from any official capacity he had before he was nabbed. The feds also alleged that he was carrying a “firearm or destructive device—an anti-tank rocket launcher and pistols—during a drug-related crime.” He faces life in prison if convicted.
The unsealed indictment named co-defendant Edmund Quincy Muntslag as a co-conspirator, alleging that he had traveled to Suriname, a country of just under 500,000 people, to arrange for the transportation of 10 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S., and that Dino Bouterse had caused the shipment to be successfully made. Muntslag was arrested in Trinidad.
The arrest shook up the Surinamese head of state so much that he was reportedly forced to postpone the opening of the summit by three hours while authorities tried to figure out what had happened. The elder Bouterse, now in his mid-60s, was himself convicted back in 1999 by a court in the Netherlands for international drug trafficking, charges he has vehemently denied while railing against some of the anonymous witnesses who had testified against him.
He and the Netherlands have never seen eye to eye politically on much, as the Hague has never forgiven him for staging a 1980 coup that toppled the elected government and for being at the helm of the country when soldiers massacred 15 anti-government opponents at a fort next door to his office. The executed had included four journalists.
Federal agents contend that Dino Bouterse has had a track record of drug trafficking and other forms of deviant behavior, pointing to his eight-year sentence and conviction in 2005 on drugs, weapons smuggling and theft of luxury cars. His latest plight will likely create severe political headaches for his father, who faces the electorate in 2015 amidst persistent criticisms that their own personal histories will periodically embarrass the country.