French helo operator caught smuggling drugs

 - July 29, 2008, 11:53 AM

Police arrested Jean-Pierre Bernardini, managing director of France-based Corseus Hélicoptères, in connection with a drug-smuggling operation in late June. The police watched 1,200 pounds of hashish being unloaded from a Eurocopter AS 350 Ecureuil owned by the company and arrested nine people near Béziers, in the south of the country.

According to local newspapers, the police believe smuggling has been taking place regularly since 2006. The helicopter was flying between Fes, Morocco, and France with stopovers in Spain. Hunters called the police last year when they witnessed unusual helicopter landings.

On June 22, policemen were in place near the unprepared landing site in the countryside, and at Béziers Vias airport. After the drugs were transferred to a car,
the helicopter took off for Vias to refuel.

In addition to Bernardini the police arrested two others on board the helicopter and another six, including a former president of the Chamber of Commerce, in Ajaccio. From the outset, an AWACS airborne radar supported the police operation.

The prosecutor of Marseille was unavailable for comment. AIN contacted a Corseus employee and Bernardini’s attorney, Antoine Sollacaro, but neither would comment on whether the operator is still doing business. A spokeswoman at the DAC Sud-Est, the local civil aviation authority, told AIN Corseus still holds its AOC. The grounded helicopter was used for aerial work. Corseus may use its other Ecureuil for public transport such as sightseeing flights. “We have just sent Corseus a letter asking who will replace Jean-Pierre Bernardini, who is [also] head of quality assurance,” the DAC spokeswoman said. She told AIN the arrested pilot was a seasonal worker, while Corseus has two full-time pilots as well. Corseus Hélicoptères’ name and logo resemble those of a bigger French operator, Proteus Hélicoptères. When created in 2001, Corseus was an offshoot of Proteus. However, a Proteus official said there is no longer any link between the two companies and noted that Proteus has repeatedly asked Corseus to change its logo, without success.