MANHATTAN (CN) - Snared in a sting operation by undercover Drug Enforcement Agency agents posing as Hezbollah operatives, the son of Suriname's president will spend more than 16 years behind bars in the United States.
Prosecutors hoped that Dino Bouterse, 42, would have faced a far heavier sentence of 30 years to life.
The son of Suriname's sitting president Desi Bouterse, Dino rose to command the Latin American nation's counterterrorism unit with only a high school education.
Although Bouterse never encountered any actual Hezbollah militants in his coastal republic, undercover DEA agents offered him up to $20 million dollars to help the group set up camps there and smuggle 10 kilograms of cocaine into the United States, his lawyers say.
Prosecutors say the offer was a $2 million donation to his father's campaign.
One of the agents introduced himself as a Lebanese money launderer and the other as a high-level Mexican drug cartel member, court records say.
Bouterse quickly took the bait, according to his indictment.
During a July 31, 2013, meeting in Greece, one of the phony militants said: "I'm sure you read about the wars that we are fighting with the Americans. And from what I heard from [another informant] also there is not much love between you and the Americans." (Brackets added)
"We have a problem with the Dutch. And Americans," Bouterse responded, according to the indictment.
A short review of Suriname's colonial history sheds light on that remark.
After spending three centuries as Dutch colony beginning in 1667, Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975. The newly autonomous nation headed on a collision course with U.S. Cold War policy five years later, when a military coup replaced the civilian government with a socialist republic.
President Ronald Reagan dropped a plan to overthrow Suriname's government in 1983, the New York Times reported at the time.
Bouterse and the informants allegedly discussed hosting 30 to 60 Hezbollah members as "the first batch," supplying them with passports and arranging for surface-to-air missiles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Defense attorneys claim that their client could never have sneaked Islamic militants into a "small, culturally and ethnically harmonious country like Suriname" that has "intelligence ties to the United States."
But the announcement of Bouterse's indictment last year, exactly a year after his Aug. 29, 2013 arrest in Panama, was trumpeted as evidence of a push by Islamic narco-terrorists to form a beachhead in Latin America.
Bouterse pleaded guilty to the charges against him in a carefully worded statement.
"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 as a terrorist organization by the United States," he said.
His lawyers then argued in court papers that their client's crimes should not be punished as terrorism-related offenses.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who heard the case, also presided over a similar narco-terrorism case against Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Depicted in print as the "Merchant of Death" and on film as the "Lord of War," Bout's alleged arming of human rights abusers around the world had alarmed the international community. But he escaped prosecution until the DEA engineered a sting operation that led to his arrest in Thailand in 2008.
Bout shook on a deal with the agents to send weapons to the FARC, a group of Colombian guerrillas designated as a terror group by the United States but not by Russia.
Although she sustained a federal jury's convictions of Bout on all charges, Scheindlin expressed her discomfort with the DEA's tactics before issuing the minimum allowable sentence of 25 years in 2012.
Scheindlin leaned toward the position of defense attorneys again in Bouterse's case.
The 195-month sentence is a bit over a year more than what defense attorneys requested, and more than a decade below the minimum of the prosecution's sentencing range.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara lauded Bouterse's "lengthy prison term" for his "odious crimes."
"Dino Bouterse was supposed to oppose terrorism," Bharara said in a statement. "Instead, Bouterse betrayed his official position and tried to support and aid Hezbollah, including his agreement to assist Hezbollah in acquiring weapons, and conspiring to import cocaine to the U.S."
Bouterse's lawyers did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
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