Diaspora

DOJ Charges Its First Suspect In Haitian President’s Assassination – Forbes

The Department of Justice on Tuesday charged an ex-Colombian military officer with allegedly participating in the plot to kill former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, marking the first U.S. prosecution stemming from Moïse’s July assassination. 
TOPSHOT – Members of the Haitian police and forensics look for evidence outside of the presidential … [+] residence on July 7, 2021 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. – Haiti President Jovenel Moise was assassinated and his wife wounded early July 7, 2021 in an attack at their home, the interim prime minister announced, an act that risks further destabilizing the Caribbean nation beset by gang violence and political volatility. Claude Joseph said he was now in charge of the country and urged the public to remain calm, while insisting the police and army would ensure the population’s safety.The capital Port-au-prince as quiet on Wednesday morning with no extra security forces on patrol, witnesses reported. (Photo by VALERIE BAERISWYL / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP via Getty Images)
Mario Antonio Palacios, 43, was charged with conspiracy to murder or kidnap Moïse, as well as knowingly “providing material support” resulting in Moïse’s death, charges that could lead to a maximum sentence of life in prison if he’s convicted, according to a press release sent out by the DOJ Tuesday.
The DOJ says Palacios is one of around 20 people — including Colombian citizens and dual Haitian-American citizens — who plotted to either kidnap or kill Moïse, many of whom have been arrested by Haitian authorities, though Palacios is the only one to face U.S. charges.
Prosecutors claim Palacios admitted to U.S. law enforcement that he was hired to help capture the president, and that he entered Moïse’s compound the night of the killing aware that the group’s plan had shifted from a kidnapping to an assassination, though his exact alleged role in the event remains unclear.
Prosecutors say Palacios fled to Jamaica following the July 7 assassination before being deported and ultimately agreeing to travel to the United States.
Palacios is in U.S. custody, and his lawyer told the New York Times his client would most likely plead not guilty at his upcoming pretrial hearing (his attorney did not respond to Forbes’ request for comment).
 “I don’t know who killed the president of Haiti,” Palacios told the Colombian magazine Semana in August. Palacios said Moïse was already dead when he entered the room where the president was shot, and until then he believed the plan was only to kidnap him.
Moïse, 53, was shot 12 times in his home in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on July 7 at approximately 1 a.m., according to Haitian authorities. His wife Martine Moïse was shot as well but survived the attack, which she said was perpetrated by Spanish-speaking attackers. Four of the suspects were killed by Haitian police and another two were arrested directly following the assassination. While the motive behind the assassination remains unclear, officials believe those involved in the attack were searching Moïse’s house for documents containing a list of Haitian politicians and businesspeople involved in the country’s drug trade. Advisors tasked with drafting the list told the Times Moïse planned to give it to the U.S. government. Moïse’s wife told the Times she remembers the intruders searching through her husband’s files after killing him. Prior to his assassination, Moïse was aiming to rewrite Haiti’s constitution and include a provision that would give the president immunity for any actions taken while in office. The assassination sparked political turmoil and led to a short-lived power struggle for control over the Haitian government. In the past year, the country has dealt with a  7.2 magnitude earthquake and the high-profile kidnapping of 17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries by a Haitian gang.
Palacios and the other Colombian military officers worked for a Florida-based private security firm that was initially tasked with protecting dignitaries in Haiti, the Times reported, citing Haitian officials and family members. Haitian authorities also claim a financier based in Florida helped pay for the security firm’s costs. The financier and the security firm’s managers were not charged with any crimes, and their lawyers told the Times they’re innocent.
Haitian prime minister Ariel Henry survived an assassination attempt on Saturday during an event at which he planned to speak, leaving one person dead and two others injured.

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