American and Colombian investigative services have linked both Surinamese Vice President Ronnie Brunswijk and former President Desi Bouterse to recent involvement in cocaine trafficking. This is evident from emails from the Colombian Public Prosecution Service, which were captured in a hack in 2022. The emails have been viewed by forty news organizations from all over the world. One of the participants in the NarcoFiles project is InsightCrime.
Brunswijk and Bouterse, who have been convicted in the Netherlands for involvement in cocaine trafficking, are said to act as brokers and use their connections within the Surinamese authorities to facilitate cocaine smuggling in exchange for bribes.
The Colombian guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and dissident groups of the demobilized Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) have both sent cocaine through Suriname in recent years, as can be seen from the hacked emails.
Care and Hope
Brunswijk’s alleged ties to the drug trade emerge in an email dated August 25, 2020. In the email, a special agent of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) writes to an investigator from the Colombian Public Prosecution Service about a recent drug transport in Suriname.
This concerned transport from the Surinamese interior to Zorg en Hoop airport in Paramaribo. The DEA suspected Brunswijk of being in contact with three ‘bad guys’, including Gilbert S., a pilot who owns an aviation company Vortex. Reports surfaced at the time that Surinamese ‘police officers’ were involved in the coke transport.
The emails show that two police officers robbed S. and tried to rip 400 kilos of cocaine. But the two quickly returned it after discovering that some of the drugs belonged to a criminal with important connections.
Brunswijk is said to have received money to ‘calm the situation’. Brunswijk did not respond to InSight Crime’s request for comment.
According to the emails, Brunswijk’s contact is Brian B.. In 2018, a Brazilian court sentenced him in absentia to 21 years in prison for trafficking in 500 kilos of cocaine.
A year ago, tensions were running high behind the scenes between Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santokhi and Vice President Brunswijk.
Bouterse: in the game?
Allegations of Bouterse’s continued involvement in drug trafficking appeared in another hacked email between officials of the Colombian Attorney General’s Office.
In the email, dated May 6, 2022, an official from the Colombian Public Prosecution Service writes to a superior about a report from an informal source. It states that Bouterse would help traffic cocaine from Colombia via Suriname to locations in the Caribbean, Africa and Europe.
Bouterse was allegedly in contact with a Surinamese drug trafficker whose network also included a Colombian trafficker who tried to obtain a private plane modified to transport between 1.2 and 1.5 tons of cocaine, the informant said.
Bouterse declined to comment to InsightCrime.
Incidentally, the plane that Gilbert S. allegedly used under the protection of Brunswijk to smuggle cocaine in 2020 has a link with Desi Bouterse. The six-seater Cessna C206 was purchased in 2017 by Samuel’s company Vortex in consultation with then president Bouterse.
The emails also contain a route taken by the Colombian guerrilla movement ELN.
The ELN transported cocaine by vehicle from San Vicente del Caguán, in the Colombian department of Caquetá, to an airstrip in Arauca, close to the Venezuelan border. Pilots then flew the cocaine to Suriname. The drugs were exported to Europe from Suriname.
The ELN was paid in Suriname with US dollars, which were then sent back to Colombia and exchanged for pesos, according to a statement from a former ELN employee in the Colombian military part of the email hack.
Transports from Colombia and Venezuela to Suriname are still continuing. In August 2023, Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santokhi told radio station ABC that drug planes still land daily in the interior of Suriname.
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