A US court sentenced Dino Bouterse, the son of Suriname's president, to over 16 years in prison for terrorism and drug trafficking charges in a case that illustrates the extent to which Bouterse used his position to facilitate criminal activity.
On March 10, the US District Court in the Southern District of New York convicted Bouterse of attempting to provide resources and material support to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, as well as charges of drug trafficking and a firearms offense.
Bouterse was arrested in Panama in August 2013 after meeting with individuals posing as members of Hezbollah. He agreed to allow Hezbollah operatives to use Suriname as a base for launching attacks against US targets in exchange for millions of dollars. Bouterse also met with undercover DEA agents to discuss importing cocaine into the United States on commercial flights and facilitated a test shipment of 10 kilos of cocaine.
Bouterse pleaded guilty to the charges against him on August 29, 2014. He had previously served as the head of Suriname's counterterrorism unit.
InSight Crime Analysis
This case underscores how Bouterse used his position and influence to facilitate criminal activity -- an accusation also leveled at his father, President Desi Bouterse.
Prior to leading Suriname's counterterrorism unit, Dino Bouterse had been convicted of leading a drug and arms trafficking organization and sentenced to eight years in prison. His father -- who previously ruled the country under a military dictatorship in the 1980s, before he was elected president in 2010 -- was convicted in absentia of drug trafficking by a Netherlands court in 1999 and is currently wanted for drug trafficking in France. President Bouterse has also been implicated in a criminal network that provided the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with weapons in exchange for cocaine.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Suriname
Dino Bouterse's conviction also highlights US fears that Hezbollah is trying to set up shop in Latin America. In the past, US officials have accused Lebanese nationals of using South American drug money to fund Hezbollah and alleged that Mexican criminal groups collaborate with the Lebanese militant group, but apart from a few isolated cases there appears to be no concrete evidence to suggest major Hezbollah operations in Latin America.
Bouterse's conviction also raises the question of whether there are other corrupt dealings involving Suriname's political and financial elite. A recent investigation into HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland revealed that there were about $722.3 million dollars -- which represents over 7 percent of Suriname's GDP -- associated with the accounts of nine clients linked to Suriname. While having a Swiss bank account does not necessarily imply any wrongdoing, the sheer amount of cash associated with such a small number of clients linked to Suriname certainly raises eyebrows.