Jamaica apprehends former Haitian senator in President Moïse’s assassination

·7 min read

A former Haitian politician described by police as driven by his “fierce will to kill” President Jovenel Moïse has been apprehended.

John Joël Joseph, a former Haitian senator and one of several assassination suspects who had remained at large, is being detained in Jamaica after being arrested Friday in rural St. Elizabeth parish.

The Jamaican Constabulary Force Saturday confirmed the arrest to the Miami Herald, and in a late afternoon statement said Joseph and three members of his family were arrested at 8:30 p.m. the previous day at a home by members of the Counter Terrorism & Organized Crime Unit and the St. Elizabeth divisional police. The Herald has learned that the relatives are his wife and their two children.

“Local investigators have since made contact with the Haitian authorities, who informed them that he is wanted in Haiti as a suspect in the alleged assassination of the Haitian president in 2021,” the statement said.

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Jamaican authorities said that investigations and operations into the presence of Joseph, who also travels under the name Joseph Joël John, are ongoing. Haiti and Jamaica do not have an extradition treaty, which will complicate matters in the coming days as to whether Joseph is sent back to Haiti or transferred to the United States, where a parallel probe into the president’s slaying is ongoing.

This is the second weekend in a row that a wanted suspect in the brazen July 7, 2021, assassination of Moïse, 53, has been apprehended. Last weekend, officials in the Dominican Republic arrested Rodolphe Jaar, a convicted drug trafficker whose Port-au-Prince residence housed vehicles, weapons and a group of Colombians allegedly involved in the then-upcoming attack.

A former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant who double-crossed the agency by tipping off agents to a 420-kilo cocaine load in 2012 while secretly stealing part of the stash, Jaar remains in the Dominican Republic but is wanted by both Haiti and the United States.

Joseph, meanwhile, is the second key suspect to be taken into custody in Jamaica, suggesting that he and others may have used a popular “Guns for Ganja” criminal route between Haiti’s southern coast and the country’s English-speaking Caribbean neighbor to escape authorities after months of hiding in Haiti.

In October, retired Colombian sergeant Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios was arrested in Kingston after being tracked there by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents. He had previously hidden in Haiti for months. He was later taken into custody by Jamaican authorities under an immigration violation, and then ordered deported in late December.

Palacios is currently in U.S. federal custody, after being detained in Panama earlier this month while on his way back to Colombia. Told that there was a U.S. warrant for his arrest, he voluntarily agreed to travel to Miami, U.S. and Panamanian officials said.

A criminal complaint drafted by the FBI and unsealed on Jan. 4 in federal court accuses Palacios, 43, of conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States, and providing material support resulting in death, knowing that such support would be used to carry out a plot to kill the Haitian president.

The FBI criminal complaint says that about 20 Colombians were involved in the plot, which began as a mission to kidnap and arrest Moïse but later changed to killing him, according to statements Palacios provided U.S. federal agents while he was detained in Jamaica.

A police officer abandoned his vehicle during a demonstration that turned violent in which protesters demanded justice for the assassinated President Jovenel Moïse in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Thursday, July 22, 2021.
A police officer abandoned his vehicle during a demonstration that turned violent in which protesters demanded justice for the assassinated President Jovenel Moïse in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Thursday, July 22, 2021.

Moïse was at home with his wife and younger children when a hit squad allegedly made up of former Colombian soldiers and accompanied by two Haitian Americans and Haitian National Police officers stormed his Pelerin 5 neighborhood in the hills above Port-au-Prince. Heavily armed, they gained access inside the private residence and then into the couple’s bedroom, where Moïse was shot 12 times and his wife, Martine, was wounded and left for dead. She survived.

Authorities in Haiti initially arrested 44 individuals, including 18 Colombians commandos, three Haitian Americans as well as a prominent businessman and several police officers. A major manhunt was launched for other alleged key suspects — four of whom have been apprehended outside of Haiti since November.

The entrance to the private residence belonging to the family of the late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.
The entrance to the private residence belonging to the family of the late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

A 124-page Haitian police investigative report obtained by the Herald shows that Joseph was heavily involved in the planning leading up to the president’s slaying. He “was instrumental in his fierce will to kill the president,” the report says.

Among police allegations is that he was in contact at least 10 times with another suspect, Cinéus Francis Alexis, whose cellphone was transmitting from Pétionville at 2:04 a.m. on the night of the attack and later in the vicinity of the National Palace.

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Police allege that Joseph was in contact with a number of the other suspects as well, and attended meetings about the attack. They contend that one of the jailed Colombian suspects, Jheyner Alberto Carmona Florez, who admitted to taking part, said during questioning that one such meeting took place at Joseph’s home, where participants were briefed on the operation.

Also allegedly in attendance were former Colombian soldier Rivera Garcia, who goes by Capt. Mike; former government functionary Joseph Felix Badio; and Joseph Vincent, one of two Haitian Americans currently jailed in the plot.

Citing testimony from Vincent, Haitian investigators said the plan changed after Feb. 7, 2021, when Moïse refused to step down despite calls to leave office because his presidential mandate, according to opponents, had expired.

“They had to revise this plan by proceeding differently with the tenant of the National Palace who eventually remained in office beyond this deadline,” the Haitian police said.

Police say Vincent told them that it was Joseph, the former lawmaker, who introduced them to Badio, with whom they went to the home of Reynaldo Corvington, the CEO of Corvington Security in Laboule, for a meeting at which Jaar was present.

Jaar is described as “one of the sources of funding for the project’s logistics, alongside a son-in-law of the [Corvington] CEO, who is a friend and partner of Dimitri Hérard,” a police commissioner and head of Moïse’s palace guards, known as the General Security Unit of the National Palace.

Hérard is also currently jailed. He is accused of not only being part of the assassination planning and one of the informants on the president’s whereabouts but of providing ammunition and arms to the Colombians.

At the meeting, the group discussed an elaborate but bogus U.S. government plan to bust drug-trafficking Haitian government officials using FBI and DEA agents. The bizarre meeting was described in a five-page letter to Haitian prosecutors by Corvington’s lawyer, who said the businessman and his also-jailed son-in-law are innocent.

Joseph also was charged with paying for the rental vehicles that were to be used in the assassination. Joseph had been in hiding in Haiti for months and was believed to have been under the protection of a local Port-au-Prince gang prior to surfacing in Jamaica.

He is among several suspects for whom Haitian police had issued arrest warrants. Another, who remains at large, is Badio, who had worked in the government’s anti-corruption unit and also as a consultant in the justice ministry.

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While the investigation has been stalled in Haiti, where an investigative judge has yet to issue any formal charges and has been slow to question many of the suspects, it appears to be moving in the United States.

Now, even members of Congress want an update on efforts to hold individuals accountable — and on the level of U.S. support to the Haitian investigation.

On Friday, the U.S. Senate passed the Haiti Development, Accountability, and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act (S. 1104), requiring the State Department to provide, among other things, a report on the investigation.

Under the legislation, the secretary of state would be required to submit to the Foreign Affairs committees of both congressional chambers a report on the assassination no later than 90 days after the legislation becomes law. Another update would be required within 180 days of the initial submission.

Members of Congress are looking for, among other things. a detailed description of the events leading up to the assassination and identification of key dates and the names of foreign and U.S. individuals implicated.

They also want an assessment of whether Haitian authorities have the independence and capability to carry out such a delicate investigation.

The legislation is not yet law, and has been sent to the House for a final vote. Should it pass, it will still need the signature of President Joseph Biden to become law.

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