Suriname leader's son's 'right-hand man' guilty in U.S. drug case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Surinamese man who U.S. authorities said acted as the “right-hand man” to the son of the country’s president during a scheme to send large amounts of cocaine to the United States was found guilty of trying to ship the drug, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

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Edmund Muntslag, who was arrested after a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation targeting Dino Bouterse, Suriname President Desi Bouterse’s son, was found guilty by a federal jury in Manhattan on Tuesday of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

His conviction came a year after Dino Bouterse, 43, was sentenced to 16-1/4 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges that he tried to offer a home base to the Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah in the South American country.

Muntslag, 32, faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life, according to a spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

César de Castro, Muntslag’s lawyer, said his client intends to appeal the verdict.

Prosecutors said that in 2013, Bouterse and Muntslag sought to help people claiming to be Mexican drug cartel members, who were actually U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informants, send millions of dollars worth of cocaine to the United States.

At the time, Bouterse was the head of a counter-terrorism unit in Suriname, while Muntslag acted as his “right-hand man, his partner-in-crime,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew DeFilippis said in his opening statement.

“Muntslag and the president’s son were corrupt to the core,” DeFilippis said. “They used their power and status in Suriname to traffic cocaine and to line their own pockets.”

In July 2013, Muntslag shipped a test load of 10 kilograms of cocaine by a commercial flight from Suriname to Trinidad, understanding the drugs would be transported to New York for sale, prosecutors said.

Bouterse had meanwhile agreed with the purported cartel members to discuss a weapons deal with Hezbollah, prosecutors said.

During a meeting in Greece with an undercover agent and DEA source posing as Hezbollah members, Bouterse agreed to help the group establish a base in Suriname, located north of Brazil, in exchange for $2 million, prosecutors said.

Bouterse was arrested in August 2013 in Panama, where he was discussing the purported Hezbollah deal.

Muntslag was arrested days later in Trinidad, where he was waiting to take an undercover agent posing as a Hezbollah agent to Suriname, prosecutors said. He was extradited in August 2015.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz