PARIS (AP) — A French pilot facing 20 years imprisonment in the Dominican Republic held a news conference in Paris Tuesday to "tell my story" following a daring escape across the Atlantic.
"We're dealing with a judicial system ... that condemned us to 20 years for the sole reason we were French," said Pascal Jean Fauret, who escaped with fellow pilot and defendant Bruno Odos.
"I was imprisoned in an isolation cell for two weeks then ... in a cell of six square meters (65 square feet). They shaved my head," said Fauret, who added that he didn't have recourse to an inquiry.
Odos did not attend the news conference. Both men have denied knowing that the private plane they had been hired to fly was carrying 26 suitcases of cocaine.
The pair were in the process of appealing their convictions this year for involvement in a 700-kilogram (1,500-pound) shipment of cocaine in 2013.
They had insisted on their innocence since their arrest — and their arrival in France on Saturday puts them in unusual legal limbo. They had been barred from leaving the Dominican Republic pending their appeal.
One of their lawyers, Jean Reinhart, said on Europe-1 radio that they are now at the hands of French justice — but not in custody — in hopes of clearing their names.
"It is not true justice," Reinhart said. "When you have an order that is illegal, you have to not respect it."
He said the pilots are now with their families, suffering from respiratory and dental problems but "happy to be in their country."
Reinhart did not give details of how they escaped, but the circumstances reported in French media sounded cinematic.
BFM television reported that they left on a purported local tourist cruise, then transferred to a larger boat with the help of a French politician, former naval officers and former intelligence agents — reportedly friends of the pilots from their service in the French Navy.
The two were then taken to the French Antilles where they boarded a commercial flight for Paris, BFM reported. Their lawyer said they traveled under their real names.
An official with the French Foreign Ministry said the government had nothing to do with their escape. The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to be publicly named, according to ministry policy.
Another of the pilots' lawyers, Eric Dupond-Moretti, said Tuesday that the escape was "a personal initiative" and not the work of the French government or hired mercenaries.
Dominican Attorney General Francisco Domínguez Brito had no immediate comment but said he would issue a statement later. María Elena Gratereaux, an attorney for the pilots in the country, claimed no advance knowledge of their departure, and learned of it from the media only after the fact.
Angela Charlton in Paris and Ezequiel Lopez in Santo Domingo contributed to this story