Fugitive Hijacker of Pan American Flight 281 Arrives in Southern District of New York to Face Charges

PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and JOSEPH M. DEMAREST, JR., the Assistant Director-in-Charge on the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), announced that LUIS ARMANDO PEÑA SOLTREN arrived in the Southern District of New York from Havana, Cuba, to face charges of allegedly hijacking Pan American flight 281 on November 24, 1968, and diverting the Puerto Rico-bound plane to Havana, Cuba. After 41 years of living as a fugitive in Cuba, PEÑA SOLTREN, a U.S. citizen, voluntarily returned to the United States and surrendered to federal authorities yesterday at John F. Kennedy International Airport. It was made clear to PEÑA SOLTREN by U.S. officials that he would be arrested and prosecuted upon his return to the United States. The Cuban government was aware of PEÑA SOLTREN's desire to return voluntarily to the United States and authorized his departure.

According to the Complaint and Indictment previously filed in Manhattan federal court:

On November 24, 1968, PEÑA SOLTREN, along with coconspirators JOSE RAFAEL RIOS CRUZ and MIGUEL CASTRO, boarded Pan American flight 281 bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico. After the airplane took flight, the defendants, wielding pistols and large knives, forced their way into the cabin of the airplane and ordered the crew to land in Havana, Cuba. CRUZ, 68, was apprehended in 1975 and CASTRO, 78, was apprehended in 1976. Both ultimately pleaded guilty to threatening the lives of flight crew members. CRUZ and CASTRO were sentenced to 15 years in prison and 12 years in prison, respectively, for their roles in the Pan American flight 281 hijacking.

ALEJANDRO FIGUEROA was acquitted in 1969 after a benchtrial before United States District Judge EDWARD WEINFELD.

PEÑA SOLTREN is charged in a four-count Indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit air piracy and kidnapping, one count of interference with flight crew members, one count of aircraft piracy, and one count of kidnapping. If convicted, SOLTREN faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. The case is assigned to United States District Judge ALVIN K. HELLERSTEIN.

PEÑA SOLTREN, 66, is expected to appear in Manhattan federal court on October 13, 2009.

PEÑA SOLTREN's arrest was the result of the coordinated efforts of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, FBI, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs. Mr. BHARARA thanked them for their outstanding work.

"Luis Armando Peña Soltren will finally face the American justice system that he has been evading for more than four decades. As the 1968 charges allege, he terrorized dozens of passengers when he and his cohorts wielded pistols and knives to hijack Pan American flight 281. The passage of time does not dull our resolve to bring fugitives like Peña Soltren to justice," said PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"This is yet another example of how justice delayed is not justice denied. It is an example of the principle that, for the FBI, fugitive cases don't become closed cases until the fugitive is brought to justice," said JOSEPH M. DEMAREST, JR., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Assistant United States Attorney RYAN P. POSCABLO of the Office's General Crimes Unit is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in the court of law.