August 29, 2014 / 8:10 PM / 5 years ago

Suriname leader's son pleads guilty to trying to help Hezbollah

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Suriname President Desi Bouterse’s son pleaded guilty on Friday to charges of attempting to aid Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, and conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

Dino Bouterse, who once held a senior counter-terrorism post in the South American country, admitted in a New York federal court that he had tried to provide material support to the Lebanese paramilitary group.

“In 2013, I knowingly provided a false Surinamese passport to a person I believed to be associated with Hezbollah, an organization I knew to be designated a terrorist organization by the United States,” Bouterse, 41, said in court.

He also pleaded guilty to conspiring to import narcotics and carrying a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime.

Bouterse, who faces a sentence of between 15 years and life in prison, was accused of inviting people he believed to be from Hezbollah to establish a base in the former Dutch colony to attack Americans, in exchange for an initial $2 million payment.

His plea came a year after his arrest by Panamanian authorities to face U.S. charges that he conspired to import cocaine into the United States. The charge relating to Hezbollah was added in November.

Bouterse met in 2013 with people who claimed to work for Mexican drug traffickers but were actually confidential informants with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, to discuss helping them transport cocaine and obtain weapons, according to the U.S. indictment.

In July 2013, Bouterse met with a DEA source to discuss opening Suriname to the informant’s purported Hezbollah associates, and later met in Europe with the source and two other men claiming to belong to Hezbollah, the indictment said.

The U.S. State Department has since 1997 designated Hezbollah a foreign terrorist organization.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin is set to sentence Bouterse on Jan. 6.

Bouterse’s father took part in two coups in 1980 and 1990. He ruled Suriname from 1980 to 1987 and reclaimed power as president in 2010.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Paul Simao

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