Two French pilots have made a daring escape from the Dominican Republic, where they faced they faced 20 years in jail for drug smuggling in a case dubbed 'Air Cocaine'. Pascal Jean Fauret and Bruno Odos eluded Dominican surveillance, secretly leaving the Caribbean island, crossing the Atlantic Ocean and materialise in France to the authorities' surprise.
A Dominican court had sentenced them to 20 years behind bars, over allegations they attempted to smuggle almost 700kg of cocaine. They were leaving judicial supervision with strict orders not to quit the island pending appeal. They have always maintained their innocence and, upon returning to France, claimed they hadn't escape justice but an unjust system.
"Since we were dealing with a with a justice that doesn't investigate, that does not listen and condemns us to 20 years only because we are French... I am sorry but my instinct is to return to my country where I can explain myself," Fauret told a press conference.
"I was imprisoned in an isolation cell for two weeks then ... in a cell of six square meters. They shaved my head," he said. "It will take me sometime to realise I am back," he added, saying he was aware there are "challenges to come".
The two, both 55-years-old, were arrested in 2013 in the Dominican resort of Punta Cana, as their mid-size Dassault Falcon 50 jet was about to take off for the French Riviera resort of St. Tropez, with 26 suitcases carrying a total of 680kg of cocaine in the hold.
They denied any knowledge of the illicit cargo but were nevertheless convicted in August, along with another six defendants, including fellow Frenchmen Nicolas Pisapia, a passenger on the plane, and crew member Alain Castany. "It is not true justice," Fauret and Odos' lawyer, Jean Reinhart, said. "When you have an order that is illegal, you have to not respect it."
Reinhart said the two wanted to clear their names and were not at "disposition" of French authorities. According to French media they left the Dominican Republic on a small boat on 17 October. Once on high seas they transferred to a larger boat that sailed to the French Antilles, where they took a commercial flight for Paris, easily passing security checks with passports in their names.
BFMTV broadcaster reported they were helped by "friends" in the navy and intelligence services. The French government has denied any involvement.
Lawyers for Pisapia and Castany said they were worried of the escape could have "serious consequences" for their clients who were left back. "Dominican authorities could decide to imprison him again to avoid all risks of fleeing," Pisapia's lawyer Julien Pinelli told iTele.