Surinamese Army Leader, Two Others Plead Innocent To Drug Charges
MIAMI (AP) _ A high-ranking member of Suriname’s army and two other men pleaded innocent Friday to charges they conspired to use their South American country as a haven for drug smugglers in exchange for $1 million per shipment.
Capt. Etienne Boerenveen, 28, also asked for dismissal of the indictments on grounds of diplomatic immunity.
His attorney, Philip Gerson, said Boerenveen was in Miami in his official capacity, on government business, when he was arrested March 24.
Also indicted are Ricardo Heymans, 34, Miami manager of the government- owned Suriname Airlines, and his father, Cilvion Heymans, 64, who lives in Amsterdam and claims citizenship in both Suriname and the Netherlands.
The three men were arrested as they left a yacht docked at a Biscayne Bay pier after a meeting with Drug Enforcment Adminstration agents. According to an affidavit by one of the agents, the Surminamese had made a deal to provide military protection and airstrips for drug smugglers en route to the United States in exchange for $1 million per shipment.
Boerenveen and the Heymans were charged with conspiracy to import and distribute drugs into the United States, which carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence and $100,000 penalty. They also were charged with violations of the Travel Act, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The case was assigned Friday to U.S. District Judge Sidney Aronovitz. No trial date was set.
All three are being held without bond at the federal Metrpolitan Correctional Center southwest of Miami.
Suriname, a country the size of Georgia on the northeast coast of South America, has a population of 400,000.
Boerenveen is one of five top officers in the Surinamese army and is considered close to Commander Desi Bouterse, who as an army sergeant led a coup in 1980 and only recently began turning the country back to civilian rule.
In Washington, the Surinamese Embassy issued a statement promising ″cooperation towards a correct investigation into this matter,″ but said Boerenveen was entitled to diplomatic immunity.
State Department spokesman Gregory Lagana said, ″As far as we are concerned, he does not have immunity.″