Prison alert in T&T after reports drug cartel trying to free Bouterse co-accused

(Trinidad Guardian) Security has been beefed up at the Maximum Security Prison, Arouca, after reports surfaced that emissaries of a Latin American drug cartel were planning the escape of alleged drug trafficker Edmund Quincy Muntslag. Muntslag, 29, of Suriname, is accused of involvement in a drug trafficking operation in the United States with alleged co-accused Dino Delano Bouterse, the son of Suriname President Desi Bouterse.

Muntslag is charged with conspiring to import cocaine into the US. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. A senior police source said yesterday that since Muntslag was arrested in T&T a week ago, security has been beefed up because of heightened concerns that the drug cartels could infiltrate local prisons. Prisons officers say they suspect there is a plot for Muntslag’s escape.

“Security services are on high alert for any attempted prison break, as police officers have allegedly been approached by various emissaries to assist in facilitating the escape,” a senior source said yesterday. “The US authorities are taking no chances as drug lords have managed to escape from police custody before.” Muntslag appeared in a local court on August 30 unrepresented and asked for a translator. The Central Authority Unit in the Ministry of the Attorney General offered to assist.

Mum mother has reportedly flown in to visit him, but prisons officials are keeping a close watch as he is being treated as maximum security high-risk prisoner. He was arrested by officials assigned to Organised Crime Narcotics and Firearm Bureau (OCNFB) and the US Drug Enforcement Agency when he landed in Trinidad on August 29 in transit to another country, presumably Latin America.

Muntslag is charged with conspiracy to import and distribute more than five kilogrammes of cocaine into the United States. The investigation by the US authorities has been the subject of international press reports because of his close links with Bouterse’s son. “This arrest represents a significant breakthrough in an international investigation that focused on a major cartel responsible for drug trafficking between South America and the United States,” the source said.

AG mum on details
Contacted on his cellphone yesterday, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said he could not divulge details of Muntslag’s arrest. “The work of the Central Authority is extremely sensitive and confidential. I can confirm that he has been arrested and detained but I am not at liberty to disclose anything further in relation to this matter,” Ramlogan said. Asked if Muntslag will be extradited to the US, Ramlogan said he could not discuss that issue.

A report from the US Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York also confirmed that Muntslag was arrested in Trinidad in late August. However, local authorities initially said they had no information on Muntslag’s arrest. Contacted yesterday, a press officer from the US Attorney General’s department said: “We do not know if there is any further information except what was released in the statement, but we will check and send you an e-mail.”

Head of Interpol in T&T, Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, also denied knowledge of Muntslag’s arrest yesterday. “I don’t know anything about it. If there is a person wanted by the US police, they will communicate with us,” Williams told the T&T Guardian. “There are official channels to do this and the US authorities have not communicated with us. Right now I don’t know the circumstances of his arrest or where he was arrested. I have no knowledge of this at all.Asked whether he will be investigating Muntslag’s whereabouts, Williams said no. “If the US wants to get someone extradited, they will call us.” Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard also said he did not know anything about Muntslag’s arrest or whereabouts. “This is news to me,” he said in a text message.
Told that international press reports from Reuters, the Latin American Tribune and the Associated Press had reported Muntslag’s arrest, Gaspard said he would check, although he suspected that the information might be confidential. A message was sent to the US DEA’s Special-Agent-in-Charge of the Special Operations Division, Derek Matz, who assisted in the case, but no response was received up to last night.

Alexander McLaren, Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy, also said yesterday he would make some inquiries into the matter. Efforts to contact Prisons Commissioner Martin Martinez were also unsuccessful, as calls to his cellphone went unanswered.

US drug link

A report quoted by the Latin American Tribune stated that on July 27, Bouterse, 40, of Paramaribo, Suriname, conspired to import cocaine into the US. Bouterse was arraigned in a Manhattan federal court before US Magistrate Judge James C Francis IV last Friday. He was charged with conspiracy to import cocaine and carrying a firearm or destructive device during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime.

In the indictment, it was stated that as part of this conspiracy, Bouterse caused a suitcase containing ten kilogrammes of cocaine to be transported out of Suriname aboard a commercial flight, and in the course of engaging in the drug transaction, possessed an anti-tank weapon. Bouterse’s father, Dési Bouterse, is a former army officer and military dictator who was elected to office in 2010.

The prosecution is being handled by the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant US attorneys Edward Y Kim, Michael D Lockard, and Adam Fee are in charge of the prosecution.

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