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US charges Suriname leader's son over Hezbollah ties

Surinam's President Desi Bouterse gives a speech during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Paramaribo on February 24, 2011
Surinam's President Desi Bouterse gives a speech during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Paramaribo on February 24, 2011.

The United States charged the son of Suriname President Desi Bouterse on Friday with attempting to supply weapons to Hezbollah and allow its fighters a base to attack American targets.

Dino Bouterse, extradited from Panama to the US in August, already faces charges of plotting to import 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of cocaine into the United States and of holding an anti-tank weapon during the offense.

"Today we add an additional charge of attempting to support Hezbollah to Dino Bouterse's alleged crimes connected to a cocaine-smuggling conspiracy," said US attorney Preet Bharara.

He was arrested after a meeting with undercover US agents posing as Hezbollah associates to discuss hosting 30 to 60 Hezbollah members in Suriname for training and operations.

According to the indictment unsealed in a New York federal court, Bouterse was given millions of dollars to allow dozens of purported Hezbollah operatives to use Suriname as a base.

He allegedly started to determine which heavy weapons he might provide Hezbollah and how Hezbollah operatives, supplied with a Surinamese cover story, might enter the United States.

Bouterse indicated he was aware the purported Hezbollah operatives would operate against American targets and agreed to supply Surinamese passports to assist their travel into the US.

In response to a request for surface-to-air missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, Bouterse said he would need "two months" and that he would provide a list of what he could supply.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison on the Hezbollah charge and a maximum sentence of life in prison over cocaine trafficking and brandishing a weapon.

"Drug trafficking organizations and terror networks are joined at the hip in many parts of the world," said DEA administrator Michelle Leonhart.

"Alleged criminals like Bouterse and his facilitators pose a direct threat to the safety and security of the United States."

Bouterse was previously jailed in 2005 after a judge convicted him of leading a gang that trafficked cocaine and weapons.

When he was released after serving three years of an eight-year sentence, his father gave him a job as director of the country's anti-terrorism unit.

Bouterse was elected president by parliament in 2010 but led a ruling military junta from 1980-1987, during the former Dutch colony's civil war.