Remember how earlier this year a Canadian airline crew was detained in the Dominican Republic, after they reported $25 million in cocaine hidden in the maintenance bay of their aircraft? Well, within the past few days a documentary has been released about this case, and I finally got around to watching it last night. All I can say is… WOW.
I wanted to share my updated take on this incident, now that I’ve seen this.
In this post:
Basics of the Pivot Airlines cocaine bust in Dominican Republic
In April 2022, Canadian charter airline Pivot Airlines was scheduled to operate a charter flight from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, to Toronto, Canada. Just prior to departure, a master caution switch went off in the cockpit, causing the crew to do a more thorough inspection of the aircraft. During this time, the crew discovered black duffel bags in the maintenance bay of the aircraft.
They alerted authorities immediately, and as it turned out, the bags contained over 200kg of cocaine, with a street value of around $25 million. For reporting this, the entire crew was jailed in the Dominican Republic for nine days. Once released from jail, they had their passports confiscated, and were put on indefinite house arrest.
Amazingly enough they were there for nearly eight months. They were never charged with anything and weren’t even questioned, but they just weren’t allowed to leave the Dominican Republic. That finally changed recently — after eight months they were allowed to return home and be reunited with their families.
How did drugs get onto this plane?
Canada’s CTV W5 has done a thorough investigation into what exactly happened, and this past Sunday a documentary named “Cocaine Cargo” was released on this topic. The documentary is roughly 45 minutes, and you can watch it for yourself here. It’s in four parts, so when you finish each clip, just scroll to the next one.
We now have a much clearer picture of who might be behind the drugs. Here are some of the key points that I found to be most interesting:
- The request for a flight charter was made by someone who claimed to be the chief financial officer for Trust Capital, which claimed to be a real estate investment firm; the claim was that a charter was needed for client groups coming from the United States and Dubai to the Dominican Republic
- Pivot Airlines didn’t see any red flags, as there was a company logo, a working phone number, and even an address for a downtown Toronto office; the company wired the charter costs out of a Canadian bank account
- Pivot Airlines did two charters for the company, and it was the second one where the drugs ended up being discovered
- When the crew alerted authorities in the Dominican Republic about what was going on, they came to the aircraft, but only seized roughly half of the duffel bags with cocaine; the remaining ones stayed in the maintenance bay, and it wasn’t until the crew called authorities again that these were confiscated
- Authorities in the Dominican Republic seemingly tried to take credit for this bust, claiming that they “inspected the plane” based on “intelligence reports,” which doesn’t accurately reflect that the crew reported this
- A deeper investigation was done after the drug bust, and it became clear that Trust Capital didn’t exist; the CFO didn’t exist, there was no tenant at the address listed, the phone number had been disconnected, and the email bounced back
- About $150K of the charter fees could be traced to a man in Edmonton, who claimed to be a “real estate consultant,” and who refused to speak about his involvement in this case
- Of the 11 passengers who had taken the two charter flights, four had criminal charges related to drugs, including drug trafficking, and all were Canadian (even though the claim was that they were from the USA and UAE)
- Interestingly the Punta Cana Airport video surveillance had been tampered with, and 43 minutes of footage had been deleted; fortunately there was video footage from another angle, showing that shortly before 3:30AM the day of the flight, an airport vehicle drove black bags up to the plane, and then loaded them (amazingly enough this was discovered by one of the flight attendants who spent hours reviewing the footage)
- On the day that the flight was supposed to operate from Punta Cana to Toronto, a manager at Signature Flight Support in Toronto had allegedly contacted Pivot Airlines’ CEO, asking him about the status of this flight, and saying that the plane needed to go in for maintenance the next day; the Pivot Airlines CEO found this strange, and had never had that happen before
My take on the “Cocaine Cargo” documentary
If you have the time to watch this documentary, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the kind of investigative journalism that reminds you of how important this kind of work is. Here are some of my key takeaways:
- The journalist featured in this series is really doing amazing work; the crew literally got freed while she was there filming a documentary, and the crew partly credits her for finally getting them out, and putting pressure on authorities
- The Canadian government doesn’t come out of this looking very good in terms of taking care of its citizens, and the crew was even reportedly told that if they were Americans, they would have been allowed to leave much earlier
- It’s 100% apparent that the entire crew is innocent; what a horrible, cruel shame that these people were robbed of eight months of their life, not to mention the fear and anxiety they had to suffer, fearing that they’d never be freed if they had to return to jail
- International drug trafficking is an incredibly complex operation, and I can’t help but wonder to what extent the government was turning a blind eye; when the police came to the plane and only seized half of the cocaine, one wonders if that was a mistake (and they’re that incompetent), or if that was intentional
- The charter guests were ultimately just a distraction in order to traffic drugs; the key people were the person who loaded the drugs in Punta Cana, and the person who was going to offload the drugs in Toronto (which seems to be a Signature Flight Support employee)
- The whole basis of this charter was bizarre to begin with; Pivot Airlines’ CRJ isn’t in some sexy private jet configuration, but rather has 50 seats in a typical all-economy layout, so no one in their right mind would charter that kind of plane to fly four people to & from Punta Cana, as it’s less comfortable (and a lot more expensive) than just flying Air Canada business class
- I’m curious how many of the charter guests knew that they were being used for this, as my assumption would be that at least one person knew exactly what was going on, while the rest of the people were just brought along for a vacation; there’s no benefit to more people knowing what’s going on, and ultimately the best way for this to be successful would be to actually make it look like a regular vacation
- I don’t understand why the lawyer representing the passengers would choose to be interviewed on camera, when he comes across as such an idiot; he claims he never asked the passengers why they chartered a plane, or who paid for it, which is kind of a key detail (then again, that would have probably incriminated them, so…)
I hope Canada is taking this case seriously, and at least tries to bring charges against some of the people involved, from the guy who wired the money to pay for the charter, to the person at Signature Flight Support who was allegedly very concerned about the status of the flight, and said the plane would have to go in for maintenance upon arrival.
Over 200kg of cocaine was discovered on a charter flight from the Dominican Republic to Canada, leading to an airline crew being detained abroad for nearly eight months. I had assumed all along that they had nothing to do with it (after all, they reported it), and it seems certain that this is correct.
An investigation has shown that a fake company was behind the charter, and several of the charter guests have drug trafficking charges. Furthermore, the duffel bags were loaded onto the plane in the middle of the night, and airport surveillance footage was even tampered with to cover this up. Then in Toronto, one airport worker was allegedly very concerned about the status of the flight. What a story…
What do you make of this drug bust situation?