A Florida civil court judge has ordered the return of several aircraft to prominent El Salvador businessman Enrique Rais after the Martin County sheriff dropped the case calling for their forfeiture.
Florida’s 19th Circuit Judge Barbara Bronis closed the case on June 6 and ordered the three planes and a helicopter be returned to Rais. The judge had in an earlier ruling found probable cause for forfeiture of the aircraft based on the sheriff’s investigation that alleged they were illegally registered in the United States. The sheriff’s petition said that drug detection dogs had raised suspicions about the aircraft.
“All charges have been withdrawn today, after the review of all the information and the lab reports which 100 percent confirmed that there never were any drug traces, or traces of any other illicit substance in the aircrafts,” Rais was quoted as saying on La Página website.
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Sources close to federal authorities in the United States, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing an ongoing investigation, told InSight Crime that no testing was conducted beyond that carried out by the Sheriff’s K-9 unit. The sources added that Rais continues to be a person of interest for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
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Some of the same aircraft are also at the center of an investigation by El Salvador’s ethics tribunal (Tribunal de Ética Gubernamental). The tribunal is looking into former Attorney General Luis Martínez’s use of the aircraft at a time when Rais was being sued for administrative fraud.
The fraud case involves a suit filed by two of Rais’s former business partners, both Canadian, in a public-private waste management enterprise. Rais’s former partners claim he defrauded them of $25 million dollars and Rais has countersued, alleging that he is the target of extortion.
One of Rais’ former advisors, the lawyer Mario Calderón, was jailed in El Salvador when Martinez was attorney general. Calderon had started working with the Canadians when Martínez initiated three separate cases against him. El Salvador’s Supreme Court recently ruled Calderon’s detention illegal.