Dino Bouterse, the son of Suriname President Desi Bouterse, was arrested in Panama on August 29.
The arrest was reported on August 30 by U.S. authorities, who brought Dino to New York.
The younger Bouterse is accused of drug smuggling and violating firearms laws since he got out of jail.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison in Suriname in 2005 for drug and weapons smuggling and served several years of the sentence.
Bouterse, 40, now faces a U.S. federal indictment in the Southern District of New York alleging he worked with a man identified as Edmund Quincy Muntslag to smuggle cocaine into the United States starting in or about December 2011. It also charges him with violating firearms laws by brandishing a light anti-tank weapon during the narcotics offense.
The indictment says Bouterse was involved in smuggling a suitcase filled with 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of cocaine aboard a commercial flight from Suriname to the Caribbean in late July.
“Bouterse is a significant drug trafficker who allegedly possessed dangerous weapons,” said Derek Maltz, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s special-agent-in-charge, in a statement. “Bouterse has a history of drug and weapons trafficking, having been convicted of similar charges in his home country of Suriname in 2005. Thanks to our vast network of law enforcement and informants around the world, DEA and our partners disrupted this drug trafficking conspiracy and he and Muntslag will now face justice here in the United States.”
Bouterse pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court on Friday before Judge James Francis IV. He and Muntslag, also of Suriname, both face maximum sentences of life in prison.
Federal prosecutors said Muntslag was arrested Thursday in the Caribbean island of Trinidad.
Prosecutors asked that Bouterse be held, and the request was not immediately opposed.
Bouterse’s court attorney Christopher Flood declined to comment outside court. A hearing was set for Sept. 9.
Bouterse was allegedly wiretapped while conducting business that led to his arrest.
Bouterse was arrested at Panama’s main international airport shortly after arriving in the Central American country, apparently on personal business, the government said in a statement.
President Desi Bouterse told AFP: “We were informed but for now I will concentrate on the UNASUR summit.”
Dino Bouterse is a potential successor to President Desi Bouterse, reported the Dutch Public Broadcasting outlet NOS. The arrest comes at a “painful moment” for the president, who is hosting many South American heads of state. They are gathered in the country for the transfer of the chairmanship of the Union of South American Nations to Suriname.
NOS reports that it is “an open secret” that Dino was being watched by foreign intelligence.
Desi Bouterse is a former coup leader and convicted drug trafficker who was elected president of in July 2010. Shortly after his presidential inauguration, Bouterse appointed his son Dino as director of Suriname’s Counter Terrorist Unit, drawing heavy criticism from opposition legislators who expressed concern that no legal framework was created for the unit to operate.
In 2011, unit officials were criticized for acting as police officers when they killed two men suspected in several violent crimes.
Prior to his appointment, Dino Bouterse had been charged by Surinamese authorities for various crimes.
In August 2002, prosecutors in Suriname charged Dino Bouterse with stealing 50 guns from the government intelligence service. Police at the time accused Bouterse of fleeing to Curacao to avoid arrest, although his father said Bouterse had traveled there for personal business.
A year later, prosecutors dropped charges, citing a lack of evidence.
Police detained Bouterse again in September 2004 after seizing a large number of assault weapons, ammunition and 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine from a local auto shop.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison in August 2005 after a judge found him guilty of leading a ring that trafficked in cocaine, illegal arms and stolen luxury cars.
Dino’s father Desi is a controversial figure in that he has been sentenced to prison for trafficking cocaine. But the conviction was in the Netherlands and he never went to jail. Europol also has an arrest warrant out for him, but since he’s president he is immune to the warrant.
A spokesman with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague told Reuters that the Netherlands isn’t involved in the arrest.
“It is a matter between the United States and Suriname,” he said. The Netherlands weren’t aware of the reasons for the arrest, but the ministry said in a statement it is following the developments in the case closely.
Suriname is in northern South America, above Brazil and next to French Guiana and Guyana.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.