Venezuelan Authorities Arrest Suspects in Air France Flight Cocaine Case

By Ellis Cortez
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan authorities have arrested 17 people in connection with a shipment of 1.3 tons of cocaine in an Air France flight from Caracas to Paris.

French interior minister Manuel Valls displays part of the cocaine haul.
French interior minister Manuel Valls displays part of the cocaine haul. (Photograph Courtesy of Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP)

The Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office said eight members of the National Guard and nine Air France and airport staff have been detained on drug charges. In addition, three Italians and two Britons were arrested in France.

The flight originated at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. The drugs arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on September 11. French authorities discovered the 1.3 tons of pure cocaine stuffed inside 31 suitcases registered under false names that did not correspond to passengers on the flight.

French authorities have called it the country’s largest cocaine bust ever, with an estimated value of $270 million. They worked with Spanish, British and Dutch police on the investigation. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said, this case “illustrates the importance of strengthening International cooperation in the fight against traffickers.”

Air France said it was still trying to find out how the drugs were smuggled on board. “Pending the results of these investigations, immediate measures have been taken to enhance our checks of baggage and goods on departure from certain sensitive destinations,” the airline said in a statement.

Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told reporters in Venezuela that authorities think an organized crime group with Italian and British members is responsible for the shipment. “The suitcases were not taken into the plane through the regular baggage platforms at the airport. We’re investigating how the drug (shipment) got to the airport,” he said.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says Venezuela does not produce sizeable quantities of cocaine, but drug traffickers are increasingly using its territory to smuggle drugs from Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia to other nations.

The U.S. government has accused Venezuela of failing to adhere to international efforts against drug smuggling, and also charges that high-ranking military personnel have benefited from narcotics trafficking. Venezuela denies those charges and highlights its frequent announcements of drug seizures as proof of their progress in combating the illicit trade.

For more information please see:

BBC Venezuela arrests 22 over cocaine in plane to Paris 27 September 2013

CNN Arrests made in Air France flight cocaine case 25 September 2013

Fox News Venezuela arrests 22 in Air France cocaine bust  25 September 2013

The Wall Street Journal Venezuela Makes More Arrests in Probe of Smuggling Aboard Jetliner 25 September 2013

The Guardian Cocaine seizure: three Britons arrested in Paris, Venezuela says 23 September 2013

House Budget Amendment Creates Possibility of Government Shutdown

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – The House of Representative passed an amended version of the Senate spending bill early Sunday that removed funding for the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Congress has until Monday at midnight to agree on a new spending bill or face shutting down the federal government for the first time in 17 years.

House members worked well into the night debating the amended budget that removed funding for the healthcare law. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

A shutdown of the federal government would require hundreds of thousands of federal employees to be placed on unpaid leave until a budget bill could be passed through Congress.

The amended bill passed by the House would place a one year delay on the implementation of the ACA and remove a tax on medical devices that aimed to help finance the healthcare law.  The ACA is set to begin enrolling uninsured Americans into the program on October 1, the beginning of the federal government’s fiscal year.

“The American people don’t want a government shutdown, and they don’t want Obamacare” House Republican leaders said in a joint statement.  The Republican leadership then called upon the Senate to vote on the bill in order to avoid a shutdown.

Democratic leaders are holding firm against passing the bill, refusing to convene the Democratically-controlled Senate to vote on the bill passed by the House.  Senate majority leader Harry Reid promised to strip out the healthcare provisions of the House bill, calling the attempt to delay the ACA “pointless.”

“After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at Square 1,” Reid said, adding “[w]e continue to be willing to debate these issues in a calm and rational atmosphere. But the American people will not be extorted by Tea Party anarchists.”

The White House issued a strongly worded statement Saturday, saying “Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown.”

President Obama has promised to veto the House version of the bill.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – US shutdown looms amid political rifts over health law – 29 September 2013

Reuters – Wall Street braces for volatility as shutdown seems likely – 29 September 2013

The Guardian – US government on verge of shutdown as House votes to delay health law – 29 September 2013

Wall Street Journal – U.S. Nears Shutdown as House Votes To Delay Health Law -29 September 2013

The New York Times – U.S. Shutdown Nears as House Votes to Delay Health Law – 28 September 2013

Bahrain Court imprisons 50 Activists

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain-Following charges of inciting anti-government protests to topple the government force, 50 people have been sentenced to between five and fifteen years in jail for “training elements to commit violence and vandalism and attacking security men.

Demonstrators campaign for better human rights in Bahrain (photo courtesy of BBC)

Activists reported that the government accused the convicted of being involved in the February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition and other protests against the government since 2011.  The group has been described as a terrorist organization by Bahrain’s head of public prosecution.

Since February 2011, daily protests have been ongoing by members of the Shia Muslim majority who are demanding that the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty give up power.  When asked for comment, an official said a government statement regarding the matter was in preparation.

“This was a sham trial with a political verdict, they should be released immediately,” stated Maryam Al-Khawaja, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.  It was further stated that it was a “black day for justice.”

Other civil rights groups have reported that many of those convicted were denied access to a lawyer and provided confessions under torture.  In a separate action, two police officers were jailed for torturing a protest to death in his prison cell in 2011.

Sixteen of the defendants were hand fifteen year terms, while four were jailed for ten years and the other thirty defendants received five years.

“This is the result when you have a court with a judge appointed by the king of Bahrain.  The court is just a tool to suppress the opposition and human rights defenders, and to acquit those who torture and kill protesters,” stated Yousif al-Muhafda, deputy-head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

One of the defendants to receive a fifteen year sentence was Njai Fateel, who is a well-known blogger and protest organizer who had been jailed and tortured twice before his latest arrest in May.  Fateel has been prevented from providing testimony describing torture in prison in.

Another defendant was Rihanna al-Moussawi who was arrested for taking part in an anti-government rally during the Formula One race in April.  She was sentenced to five years and was also denied a lawyer.

“All of those who were jailed today are activists and protest leaders in their villages.  The authorities just want to send a message to the opposition to stop and to accept the political situation as it is,” stated Muhafda.

For more information, please see the following: 

Alakhbar-Bahrain jails 50 activists for up to 15 years-September 29, 2013

Aljazeera-Scores of activists imprisoned in Bahrain-September 29, 2013

BBC-Bahrain unrest: 50 Shia Muslims sentenced to up to 15 years-September 29, 2013

New York Times-Bahrain Dissidents Said to Get Prison Sentences-September 29, 2013