Drug bust rocks Argentina's military

Spanish police arrest sons of top officers after they pilot cocaine-laden jet

Six years after a cocaine bust in Spain shook up the military brass in Argentina, judicial authorities in Buenos Aires are once again investigating if someone in the armed forces is connected to last month's seizure of nearly one metric ton of the drug at Barcelona's El Prat airport.

Three Argentinean men on a private jet who were arrested by Spanish authorities when they landed on January 2 are the sons of retired military officers in Argentina. Brothers Gustavo and Eduardo Juliá, along with Matías Miretcon, were piloting the Bombardier Challenger 604, which was transporting 944 kilograms that came directly from Argentina, authorities say. The three men remain in custody in a Spanish jail.

"There is great indignation in the air force," says the defense minister

On Tuesday, Argentinean Federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide assumed jurisdiction in the case to determine who, if anyone, helped the three load the cocaine on board and allowed the jet to fly without inspecting it. According to the Buenos Aires daily La Nación, Oyarbide - who has a similar reputation in his country as Judge Baltasar Garzón in Spain - is also investigating a possible link between the Juliá brothers and the recent murder of a labor leader, which is also thought to be related to a prescription-medicine trafficking ring.

The Juliá brothers are the sons of General Carlos Juliá, who in the 1990s was army chief of staff and a close aide to then- President Carlos Menem. Miret is also the son of a another general, José Miret, who also served as a planning secretary during the 1976-83 dictatorship.

"There is great indignation among the men in the air force and anger at people who have tried to link the air force to this kind of behavior," said Defense Minister Arturo Puricelli.

The drug case has raised great suspicion because the Bombardier Challenger jet was parked for 54 days at the Morón air base in Argentina. It is thought that the drugs were loaded on board during this time. The military commander at the base has since been fired. The jet stopped briefly at Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires before departing for Barcelona.

More than 20 military and civilian air officials have been called to testify before an investigating judge.

La Nación reported on Sunday that Spanish investigators had alerted the Argentinean authorities in November about Gustavo Juliá's drug activities in Spain, but he was never arrested. Quoting judicial sources, the newspaper said that Juliá had previously flown in cocaine shipments of less than 100 kilograms on at least three occasions. However, they were waiting for him to bring in a larger shipment before busting him.

"It wasn't a coincidence that the pilots presented their flight plan after 11.45pm. On that night at that time there were a lot of planes departing and no one was going to pay attention to a private plane with three men on board," one of the sources told La Nación.

According to another press report, Miret didn't know about the cocaine shipment but when he found out, he had a fist fight with both Juliá brothers.

The case is a reminder of another cocaine-trafficking plot involving the son of another Argentinean, who was arrested at Madrid's Barajas airport. That case led to the shakeup of Argentina's top military command in February 2005. Spanish authorities intercepted four suitcases arriving as unaccompanied baggage that were filled with 60 kilograms of cocaine. The scandal led to the firing of air force chief Carlos Rohde, who was replaced by Eduardo Schiaffino, and nine other senior officials in President Néstor Kirchner's government.

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