Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Global Impact: Legal Pitfalls, PR Nightmare in Renting Corporate Aircraft Out to Unknown Persons

According to The Telegraph, Alain Afflelou, 64, who owns a French chain of optician franchises throughout Europe, was recently duped a week ago when his twelve-place Falcon 50 jet, was detained a week ago when twenty-six suitcases containing 700kg (1,543 pounds) of cocaine were discovered on board.

What Mr. Afflelou was unaware of is the fact that Afflelou corporate aircraft had been leased out to Lyon-based Trans-Helicopter Services company, and was due to fly from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to Yvelines Airport near Paris, via the Azores. 

Reportedly, Afflelou learned that his Falcon 50 had been used for transporting a huge drug shipment from local news.

"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,"  explained Afflelou. 

COMMENT: The cargo hold of the Falcon 50 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 depict customs agents lining up the cases on the tarmac, and officers showing off the haul, guarded by heavily-armed soldiers. 

Police in the DR said that their efforts were the result of seven months of investigations.  

Officials in the DR 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 citizens.

Carlos Castillo Díaz, deputy prosecutor general for the Dominican Republic, said that the cocaine had been channeled through the VIP lounge of the airport, and that the chief of the high-security area was among those arrested. All of those arrested face lengthy prison terms.

From the standpoint of keeping one's corporate image pristine as possible, and so as to ensure that his wealth and business interests are not associated with criminal enterprises, Mr. Afflelou should take steps to ensure that his corporate pilots contract for the vetting of persons and business entities who regularly use the Falcon 50 when it is not being used.

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 relocating to London, as a result of massive tax hikes on high earners. 

One of France's most high-profile businessmen, with an estimated net-worth of £155 million, 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. 

Afflelou's relocation came in the midst of a flood of French millionaires leaving their homeland, including film star Gerard Depardieu and musician Jean-Michel Jarre.