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3rd suspect in assassination of Haiti president brought to Miami for court appearance

Officials attend a ceremony in honor of late Haitian President Jovenel Moise at the National Pantheon Museum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 20, 2021. (Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

A former Haitian senator who faces new U.S. charges in the assassination of the country’s president attended a key meeting with Colombian commandos on July 6, the day before the former soldiers allegedly assassinated Jovenel Moïse at his suburban home outside Port-au-Prince, according to a criminal complaint filed in Miami federal court.

The former senator, John Jöel Joseph, who had been detained in Jamaica before being brought to Miami Friday, acknowledged to FBI agents in a January interview that he had met with certain co-conspirators just before they “embarked on the mission to kill President Moïse,” according to an affidavit filed with the complaint.

Joseph also admitted in the interview that he helped obtain vehicles and tried to get firearms for the co-conspirators’ “operation” targeting Haiti’s leader, the affidavit says. Joseph’s goal was to become the prime minister under Moïse’s successor following the leader’s removal from office.

Joseph’s admission jibes with that of a Haitian police investigation that placed him at a meeting with one of the four men police claim had gained access to the president’s private bedroom as part of “a delta team.” Haitian police also identified a known gang leader as among the people Joseph had contact with before the assassination.

On Monday, Joseph agreed to be detained before trial in Miami federal court, telling a magistrate judge the case was “very sensitive” and that “I trust the American justice system.”

Joseph was transferred Friday to Miami from Jamaica, where he had been jailed on an immigration violation. At his first appearance in federal court, Joseph said he served in the Haitian Senate from 2009-15 and worked as a political and security consultant — but that he had not been employed over the past year.

“I’m in a very difficult situation,” Joseph told Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis. “I was in jail.”

Louis assigned a private attorney, Brian Kirlew, to represent Joseph because of his lack of money and other assets to pay for a lawyer. Kirlew said his client agreed not to seek to be released on bond after federal prosecutor Andrea Goldbarg indicated that she was going to ask the judge to detain Joseph before trial based on two factors: risk of flight and danger to the community.

Joseph, who also uses the last name John on his passport, was charged with the same offenses as two previous defendants who were brought to Miami earlier this year in connection with the July 7 assassination. The U.S. is running a parallel investigation to Haiti’s investigation into the president’s killing.

Those defendants, Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, a former Colombian soldier, and Rodolphe Jaar, a Haitian businessman and convicted cocaine trafficker, are both accused of conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States and providing material support resulting in Moïse’s death. Palacios has pleaded not guilty, while Jaar is believed to be cooperating with U.S. authorities.

All three defendants in the assassination plot are being held at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. They face up to life in prison if convicted.

Joseph, according to an exhaustive Haitian police investigative report first obtained by the Miami Herald, provided four rental vehicles that were used by former Colombian soldiers in the assassination and participated in meetings with chief suspects in the weeks leading up to the killing. He is identified by sources as a critical suspect who can help shed light on what happened. FBI and Homeland Security investigators have said that the plan initially was to “capture” Moïse but then turned into an assassination.

The question of why that happened remains unclear, as are the connections to the Miami area.

Joseph is suspected of meeting with an unnamed Haitian American co-conspirator, now in custody in Haiti, who collaborated with a Miami-area security company and its principals in recruiting Colombian commandos to execute the deadly plot against Moïse, according to federal sources familiar with the case. The co-conspirator, James Solages, flew to Miami in late June to discuss the coup plans with the principals of CTU, the Miami security firm, sources told the Miami Herald. Then Solages returned to Haiti and met with Joseph and other co-conspirators before the July 7 assassination of the president.

After spending months hiding in Haiti, Joseph fled to Jamaica, where he was being detained on an immigration violation for illegally entering the country by boat. He, his wife and their two sons were arrested at a home in St. Elizabeth Parish in early January.

Two weeks ago, a court in Kingston cleared the way for Joseph’s extradition after he agreed to come to the U.S. and after the chief prosecutor in Jamaica decided not to move forward with the case.

Joseph’s family members are still in Jamaica, where they are seeking political asylum.

There are currently about 40 suspects in jail in Haiti, including 18 former Colombian military soldiers who stormed the presidential compound in the hills above Port-au-Prince in the middle of night. They are accused of shooting the president multiple times and leaving his wife, Martine, for dead.


© 2022 Miami Herald
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