Millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of sexually abusing minors and died last week by apparent suicide in a federal lockup in Manhattan, traveled to Cuba at Fidel Castro’s invitation, according to Colombia’s former president, Andrés Pastrana, who said Wednesday he accompanied him on the trip.
“Amid journalistic revelations about horrifying and reprehensible sex scandals of financier Jeffrey Epstein, a trip of mine on his plane to Nassau, Bahamas has appeared, to transfer to the final destination of Havana, Cuba, invited by President Fidel Castro,” Pastrana said in a statement posted on Twitter on Wednesday.
“Mr. Jeffrey Epstein left Cuba a day or two later; I stayed on the island,” he added.
The trip to Cuba would have taken place in March 2003 when Pastrana was no longer president of Colombia.
Pastrana said he met Epstein in Ireland at an Academy of Achievements’ summit attended by personalities such as Bill Clinton and Bono. The event took place June 6-9, 2002.
Epstein’s private planes’ flight records, released by one of his former pilots, David Rodgers, show that one of Epstein’s jets arrived in Dublin on June 7, 2002, and left the next day, with the millionaire on board.
The Colombian politician denied having been at Epstein’s “now infamous” private island in the Caribbean, off the coast of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, where the millionaire took famous guests allegedly to have sex with minors.
Flight records show that Pastrana was aboard one of Epstein’s private planes that left on March 20, 2003, from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport headed to Palm Beach International Airport. Pastrana also appears in the manifest of another flight the next day from Palm Beach to Nassau International Airport in the Bahamas.
Records show Epstein, his girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, and model executive Jean-Luc Brunel, on both flights. According to the documents, they all returned to Palm Beach, without Pastrana, from the Bahamas on March 23.
The trip to Cuba, however, does not appear either in Rodgers’ records or in the records kept by the Federal Aviation Administration and obtained by the Miami Herald.
If Epstein traveled to the island, he might have wanted to avoid public scrutiny, since Americans are banned from traveling to Cuba for tourism.
“It was probably unlawful travel,” said attorney Robert Muse, an expert on the U.S. embargo against Cuba. “At that time, there were very few categories of authorized trips, and it is not clear that he would have qualified under one of them.”
Under the George W. Bush administration, there were only a few categories of American travelers allowed to travel to the island, including Cuban Americans on family visits and academics to do research, the lawyer said.
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Local Reporting Makes a Difference
In her year-long investigation of Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown tracked down more than 60 women who said they were victims of abuse and revealed the full story behind the sweetheart deal cut by Epstein’s powerhouse legal team.
Since the Herald published ‘Perversion of Justice’ in November 2018, a federal judge ruled the non-prosecution agreement brokered by then South Florida U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta was illegal, Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges in New York state, Acosta resigned as U.S. Secretary of Labor, and Epstein killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell.
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In 2003, Castro, who died in 2016, was still president and Epstein had not yet been indicted. The invitation to the American tycoon would not have been an unusual gesture, because Castro liked to surround himself with foreign personalities.
For his part, Pastrana maintained a close relationship with Castro, who became involved in the peace process in Colombia during negotiations between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish).
An el Nuevo Herald report at the time said Pastrana was in Havana in April 2003. According to the article, he was writing a book on his role in the failed peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym FARC. There was speculation that Castro himself would write the foreword, but the book was published in 2005 with an introduction by Clinton.
The relations, however, cooled under the government of his brother, Raúl Castro. In March 2018, Pastrana and the former president of Bolivia, Jorge Quiroga, were expelled from Cuba when they tried to enter the country to collect the Oswaldo Payá Award, named after the well-known Cuban dissident.
Epstein was sentenced in 2008 to 13 months in jail after pleading guilty to the solicitation of prostitution and the procurement of minors for prostitution. The controversial deal with then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta allowed the financier to avoid federal charges, despite the accusations of several victims.
Following an investigation by the Miami Herald last year, Epstein was arrested in New York in July, accused of sex trafficking of minors. Despite his death, the Department of Justice has pledged to continue investigations into those who helped or participated in the abuses.
Follow Nora Gámez on Twitter: @ngameztorres