President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has vowed to pursue drug traffickers relentlessly. So he was hard-pressed to explain how a presidential plane ended up carrying 86 pounds of cocaine across the Atlantic during an official trip, reports New York Times.
A Brazilian airman on that aircraft was caught with the shipment on Tuesday during a brief stop in Spain en route to the Group of 20 summit in Japan, Brazilian and Spanish officials said Wednesday.
The cocaine bust was bad enough. But it was an extraordinary embarrassment for Mr. Bolsonaro, who has exalted the integrity and professionalism of Brazil’s military.
The president called the incident “unacceptable” and said he had demanded “severe punishment” for the service member. “We won’t tolerate this type of disrespect to our nation!” he said in a message posted on Twitter.
The authorities in Spain said they had intercepted the cocaine when the airman, Sgt. Manoel Silva Rodrigues, stopped in the city of Seville along with an advance team supporting Mr. Bolsonaro’s trip.
Mr. Bolsonaro traveled on a separate plane that made a stop in Lisbon en route to Osaka, where G-20 leaders are convening.
Sergeant Rodrigues walked off the plane carrying a garment bag and a carry-on suitcase, law enforcement officials in Spain told the newspaper El Paris, When airport screeners inspected the bag, they found 37 bundles of cocaine and nothing else in the bag, according to the report.
Mr. Bolsonaro said in a statement that he had instructed the defense ministry to “collaborate immediately” with the authorities in Spain. He added that if the airman is implicated in a crime, he will be “judged and convicted under the law.”
Brazil’s defense ministry confirmed in a statement that a service member had been taken into custody in Spain for transporting drugs. The ministry said it “condemns acts of this nature.”
Brazil is among the world’s largest consumer markets for cocaine and a key waypoint for drugs shipped to Europe and Africa.
Mr. Bolsonaro recently backed a bill that set stiffer sentences for drug crimes and has said the police should have greater leeway to open fire on suspected criminals.
Marcelo Freixo, an opposition lawmaker, said the arrest of the airman should lead the government to reflect on its approach to fighting drug trafficking.
“The cocaine case in the presidential plane shows the error of pursuing a war on drugs in Brazilian favelas, which victimizes the poor,” he said in a statement, referring to low-income communities that have become violent battlegrounds in the trade. “Trafficking of arms and drugs generates fortunes the world over and involves powerful people. It’s necessary to follow the money and pursue those at the top.”