MANHATTAN (CN) - Dino Bouterse, Suriname's former top counterterrorism official who is the son of the country's president, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to support Hezbollah and import 10 kg of cocaine to the United States.
Arrested in Panama exactly one year ago, Bouterse, 41, initially faced only narcotic offenses when he arrived in the United States on Aug. 30, 2013.
Federal prosecutors announced an additional charge against him in a November indictment that alleged Bouterse had wanted to help Hezbollah establish a beachhead in Suriname.
"It has been publicly reported that Hezbollah has been trying to establish a base of operations in the Western Hemisphere, in the northern part of South America," the indictment said. "One of the countries in that part of South America is Suriname."
The son of Suriname's sitting president Desi Bouterse, Dino rose to commander of the Latin American nation's counterterrorism unit with only a high school education. He "agreed to allow large numbers of Hezbollah operatives to use Suriname as a permanent base for, among other things, attacks on American targets" in exchange for multimillion dollar payoffs, prosecutors said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration head Michelle Leonhart announced at the time of the superseding indictment
that the new charge illustrated the nexus between the drug trade and terrorism.
"Drug trafficking organizations and terror networks are joined at the hip in many parts of the world," she said in a Nov. 8 statement.
Bouterse's meetings with DEA confidential informants are quoted throughout the 24-page, November indictment.
During a July 31, 2013, meeting in Greece, an informant posing as a Hezbollah operative 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 no much love between you and the Americans." (Brackets added)
"We have a problem with the Dutch. And Americans," Bouterse responded, according to the indictment.
Suriname's embassy has not returned a request for comment. A Dutch colony in 1667, Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975. A military regime replaced the civilian government and declared it a socialist republic five years later, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan had 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.
Reversing his earlier denial of the allegations, Bouterse pleaded guilty to all three counts of his indictment on Friday. He read a carefully worded allocution in court, wearing a navy prison uniform.
"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," Bouterse said.
The plea deal allows Bouterse to admit to a lesser charge of the third count, involving the use of a weapon during a drug trafficking crime.
Whereas his indictment accused him of possessing a light anti-tank weapon, Bouterse pleaded guilty to carrying a firearm.
He faces a possibility of life imprisonment, and a minimum of 15 years in prison for the drug and firearm offense. The material support for terrorism charge carries a 15-year maximum sentence.
The parties may meet for a hearing to determine facts for his sentencing in December.