MIAMI (AP) — The US government revealed Thursday that it has filed two criminal charges against a key suspect in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. This is a businessman with dual Haitian and Chilean nationality who would have helped a group of Colombians obtain weapons to carry out the operation.
Rodolphe Jaar, one of the key suspects in the case, made his first court appearance before Judge Lauren Louis and was charged with conspiracy to commit murder or killing outside the United States, and providing material support resulting in death, knowing that aid would be used to prepare or carry out a conspiracy to kill or kidnap.
If found guilty, Jaar could be sentenced to life in prison. In a hearing to be held on January 26, his defense could ask for his release on bail, although the prosecution announced that due to his criminal record he opposes it.
The judge set another hearing for February 3, in which he could plead guilty or not guilty.
Jaar is the second foreigner to come to the United States to face charges related to the assassination of the Haitian president. In early January, another of the key suspects, former Colombian soldier Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, was indicted in the same federal court on identical charges.
According to the indictments, Jaar and a group of approximately 20 Colombian and Haitian-American citizens participated in an operation to kidnap or kill the Haitian president. The charges allege that Jaar was present when another of the conspirators—identified only as “conspirator number 1”—obtained the signature of a former Haitian judge on a written request for assistance in arresting Moïse.
That “conspirator number 1”, who is only identified in the indictment as a Haitian-American citizen, traveled from Haiti to the United States to advance the conspiracy and provided the document to others. Then, according to the documents, he returned to Haiti on July 1 to participate in the operation against the president of the Caribbean nation.
The Haitian government has arrested more than 40 people for their alleged involvement in the murder, including 18 former Colombian soldiers, who the Colombian government says were duped.
At Thursday’s hearing, Jaar responded in English to questions from the judge to determine whether he could afford his attorney or needed one from the state.
Dressed in a beige prison uniform and mask, Jaar told the judge that he had businesses in Haiti, but that he had been away from them for six months and did not receive any income. He added that he had a bank account with the equivalent of about $2,000. He did not make any statement about the accusations.
Jaar was arrested in the Dominican Republic and according to US authorities he voluntarily agreed to be transferred to Miami on Wednesday to be tried in federal court. He remains under arrest in a federal prison in South Florida, as does Palacios.
Authorities in the Dominican Republic said they arrested Jaar on Friday with the help of the US government as he tried to enter from Haiti, a country with which they share the island of Hispaniola.
Moïse, 53, was killed on July 7, when a group of unknown persons broke into his private residence in Port-au-Prince.
According to the accusations, although the objective of the conspiracy was initially to kidnap the Haitian president, it ended up changing its purpose to kill him. The document indicates that several of the conspirators entered Moïse’s house to assassinate him, and they did so.
Jaar, the accusations indicate, was responsible for supplying the Colombians with weapons to carry out the operation. Several of the Colombians remained in a house controlled by Jaar, according to the charges.
After the murder, Jaar communicated with “Conspirator 1” and others to help the Colombians and “Conspirator 1” while they hid from Haitian authorities, according to the indictments.
“Conspirator 1” one was arrested in Haiti and remains in custody, according to information from the US Department of Justice.
Jaar, 49, was born in Haiti and has a degree in business administration, according to court documents. In 2013, he was prosecuted in federal court in Miami on charges of having conspired to smuggle cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela, through Haiti, and into the United States. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nearly four years in prison, according to court documents. At the time, his lawyer said he had cooperated with US authorities.
Palacios, the 43-year-old former Colombian soldier also charged in Miami, was arrested in Jamaica in October. At that time Haiti issued an Interpol Red Notice against Palacios on charges of attempted murder, armed robbery and criminal association. At the beginning of January, Jamaica confirmed the deportation of Palacios to Colombia, because he was arrested for illegally entering the country. And furthermore, because there is no extradition treaty between Jamaica and Haiti. On January 3, when Palacios was expected to arrive in Colombia, he was detained at the stopover in Panama and sent to the United States. The Justice Department has said that both Palacios and Jaar voluntarily agreed to be transferred to Miami to face their charges.
The AP journalist in Colombia, Astrid Suárez, collaborated with this article.