In one of the largest drug busts in the country’s history, police in Belize have arrested the brother of a former Ecuadorian government official. Juan Pablo Larrea was one of six foreigners arrested September 8 at a remote landing strip in southern Belize as they attempted to off-load 1,340 kilos of cocaine from a small aircraft.
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency estimated the street value of the cache at $205 million. The DEA called the bust “massive and unprecedented.”
Larrea’s brother, Eduardo Larrea, former director of civil aviation in the government of Rafael Correa, is currently in jail accused of participating in organized crime activities.
According to an official Belize government report, the six foreigners opened fire when police surprised them during the unloading operation. Two of the suspects were wounded in the gunfight and were treated at a Belize City hospital.
Police say the suspects had traveled to Belize earlier to the meet the King Air 200 Beechcraft as it arrived loaded with drugs from Venezuela. In a statement, police say they had been tipped off about the drug transfer by a jailed informant and were in position at the airstrip when the plane arrived. “It is our understanding that the foreigners planned to transfer the drugs to a boat on the coast for forward shipment to Florida. We were, unfortunately, unable to apprehend the boat or its operators.”
The statement said authorities believed the shipment was coordinated by the Mexican Sinalao drug cartel.
In addition to Larrea, the other men arrested were Mexican and Honduran nationals.
Eduardo Larrea’s attorney in Guayaquil said that his client in uninvolved in the Belize operation and the arrest of his brother. “This is an unrelated incident in which Eduardo Larrea has absolutely no involvement,” Yudith López said after news of the Belize arrests became public.
The Larrea brothers are partners in an aviation company and Ecuadorian authorities say they are in contact with Belize police to verify the ownership of the aircraft used in the drug shipment. Eduardo Larrea was arrested in Mexico in 2014 for “illegal shipments” onboard one his planes but was later released.