BRASILIA – Brazilian officials said on Monday that they are investigating the origin of a half-ton of cocaine found aboard a small plane that apparently took off from property linked to Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, a billionaire soy baron.
Authorities spotted the “suspicious” aircraft on radar Sunday and when the pilot declined to respond to requests for identification, a fighter plane was dispatched, the air force said in a statement.
The pilot of the small plane ignored the presence of the fighter until the air force pilot fired a warning shot, prompting the man at the controls of the small aircraft to land in a rural area of the central state of Goias.
Five-hundred 500 kilos (1,101 lbs.) of cocaine were found aboard the small aircraft, which took off from Itamarati Norte, a spread of roughly 40,000 hectares (98,000 acres) in Mato Grosso state, the air force said.
But the air force later released a statement quantifying the amount of drugs at 653 kilos and clarifying that “the information about the plane’s point of departure was given by the pilot himself” and remains subject to confirmation.
Itamarati Norte belongs to the Andre Maggi Group, an agribusiness giant founded by Blairo Maggi’s father.
Citing the latest bulletin from the air force, Blairo Maggi said on Twitter that Mato Grosso “is vulnerable to the action of drug trafficking” because it borders Paraguay, where marijuana is cultivated on a large scale, and coca-producing Bolivia.
The Andre Maggi Group put out a statement insisting that the firm “has no link with the aircraft which the air force described and did not issue an authorization for landing of takeoff” on any of the 11 runways at Itamarati Norte.