Alain Afflelou, who owns Europe’s largest chain of optician franchises, was not on the plane at the time and was said to be “stunned” by the discovery. The plane had been leased out to Lyon-based Transhelicopter Services company, and was due to fly from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to Yvelines airport near Paris, via the Azores.
“Alain Afflelou learnt the news through the press, and is stunned,” said Isabelle Amaraggi, his communications director. “This plane and another smaller one managed by this company were used by Alain Afflelou and his colleagues in their line of work. “When it’s not being used we rent it out, and so we have no idea who these people are who hired our plane. Our lawyers are trying to find out.”
The 12-seater aircraft, a Falcon 50, was detained a week ago when 26 suitcases containing 700kg of cocaine were discovered. The plane’s hold was wedged tightly with small wheeled suitcases, while other cases were rammed between the seats. Photos released by the Dominican Republic’s National Directorate for Drug Control show customs agents lining up the cases on the tarmac, and officers showing off the haul – guarded by heavily-armed soldiers in balaclavas. Police said the seizure was the result of seven months of investigations.
Officials in the Caribbean country arrested 35 people in the raid, including soldiers, police and Dominican customs agents, who were suspected of being part of a drug trafficking ring. Four of those arrested were French. Carlos Castillo Díaz, deputy prosecutor general for the Dominican Republic, said that the cocaine had been trafficked through the VIP area of the airport, and that the chief of the high-security area was among those arrested. “We are going to call for prison sentences for all 35 of them,” he said.
Mr Afflelou’s spokesman said he had written to the Lyon-based company asking for an explanation. The 64-year-old businessman sparked controversy in December when he announced that he was leaving France and moving to London – amid plans for massive tax hikes on high earners. One of France’s most high-profile businessmen, with an estimated fortune of £155 million, Mr Afflelou said that he was moving to the UK for business opportunities, rather than to avoid tax. His company currently has 1,200 stores in nine countries. But his departure came in the midst of a flood of French millionaires leaving their homeland, including film star Gerard Depardieu and musician Jean-Michel Jarre.