Lieutenant arrested in plane theft

Army Lieutenant John Percival Matos was arrested yesterday and the government says he is the leading suspect in the theft of a Beechcraft plane at 3:20 early Sunday morning from the La Isabela International Airport (AILI) in northern Santo Domingo. His wife, Ginnssellys Halversoni Vasquez had been working at Aerointer that operates in Hangar No. 26 for three weeks. Investigation of cell phone connections revealed that Percival had spoken to his wife’s cell phone from 8pm of Saturday, 22 October to 3:15am on Sunday, 23 October.

Today’s Listin Diario publishes the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) intelligence report on the theft in full. Lieutenant Matos, using a fake identity (Arturo Flores), entered the airport in the early hours of the morning with two Venezuelan pilots. The report establishes that no action was taken by security services at the airport, and nothing occurred until 8:30am the next day when a Grupo Puntacana employee reported the theft in Hangar No. 12 of the aircraft registration N871C. The report indicates that Flores registered as the pilot and the copilot was Luis Santana, with supposed passengers Carlos Andres Santiago and Arturo Torres Santiago. They would have traveled on an Acsa plane in a private flight to La Romana.

The DNCD report says all names were false.

The report states that Percival Matos was authorized to serve at the airport. “He was assigned to work under his father at Caribair, serving as a pilot at the private company Helidosa”.

The DNCD, citing Colombian sources, says that the officer has been linked to another case.

The report quotes sources as saying that Venezuelan pilots had coordinated the plane’s takeoff to Venezuela and that Percival would have received US$350,000 for his involvement.

In an editorial today, Listin Diario writes that the case highlights the existence of fraudulent identities, the stranglehold that influential individuals exert at high levels, but also of the ongoing battle against drug trafficking.

“What is relevant to the investigation is the presumption that the theft was carried out by one of the drug trafficking cartels and that the airplane would be used to transport drugs in the Caribbean region. But what is most relevant is the plan itself, that synthesizes a monumental forgery of data and identities and the vulnerability of all security systems at the airport, which questions those mechanisms and precautions and calls for immediate study of the weaknesses to correct them,” says the editorialist.

The editorialist makes the point that it was difficult to obtain international certification for the airport and criminal actions of this type should not be allowed to put this at risk. “But, at the same time, this country is waging a firm battle against drug trafficking and this theft makes it evident that the chiefs of organized crime still have lots of power, contacts and influence, at all levels, to secure their objectives,” writes the newspaper.

El Caribe reports that the National Pilots Association said that the robbery was a highly planned operation that had insider help because the airplane was towed to the runway where it was positioned for takeoff. The pilots association says international drug trafficking is behind the theft. As reported in El Caribe, the airplane has capacity to travel to Colombia or Venezuela and back (1,700 nautical miles range).