At least 1.3 million dollars were found on a small plane that crashed in western Ecuador on May 13, causing the deaths of its two Mexican crew members, who are believed to have been carrying out a drug-trafficking operation, the police announced on May 15.
“It’s more or less 1.3 million dollars,” AFP was told by Colonel Ulises Parreño, the police chief in the locality of Pedernales, near which the accident occurred.
The police commander indicated that the bundles of bills were found by the police when they were inspecting the site where the aircraft crashed, a rural sector of the province of Manabí (on the Pacific coast).
Meanwhile, President Rafael Correa declared to the press that “it’s very probably a drug cartel” that is involved in the case, and added that “I would be irresponsible and a demagogue if I dismissed the possibility that drug cartels operate in Ecuador, as in all of Latin America.”
“What I can tell you is that they operate much less (in Ecuador) than in other countries of Latin America, and that we are fully determined and resolved to counter this worldwide pandemic,” he added.
The president emphasized that Ecuador “is in the middle of the world’s two largest producers of drugs, Colombia and Peru, and despite that, we don’t have drug crops. We take very good care of our airspace and territory, but a small plane could infiltrate us all of a sudden.”
According to Interior Minister José Serrano, the money was apparently for a money-laundering operation or to pay for a drug shipment, since “these small planes are generally used for that purpose.” There were no narcotics on board the Mexican-registered aircraft.
The aircraft, which did not have permission from Ecuadorean authorities to fly, crashed into a peak, causing the deaths of the pilot and copilot, both Mexican citizens, whose remains were transported to Quito on May 15 for their repatriation.
According to authorities, the small plane was travelling without lights and at low altitude, apparently in order to avoid detection by Ecuadorean radar.
At least two other drug-trafficking cases involving Mexican-flagged aircraft have been reported in Ecuador in the last nine years.
In October 2003, the police discovered a plane with 400 kg of cocaine in Portoviejo (in southwestern Ecuador), in a case involving a former Ecuadorean governor, while in October 2007, 3.7 tons of that drug were seized in the province of Esmeraldas (in the northwestern part of the country) before being loaded on another aircraft.
The latter aircraft took off without permission and was intercepted in Mexico, where authorities detected traces of the contraband and arrested a pilot.