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Crime and Justice

Colombian charged with murder of Haiti's president arrested in Miami

U.S. authorities arrested early on Tuesday a former member of the Colombian military wanted in connection with the assassination last year of Haiti President Jovenel Moise. (Leer es español)
Publicado 4 Ene 2022 – 04:49 PM EST | Actualizado 4 Ene 2022 – 07:10 PM EST
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A police convoy drives past a wall painted with the president's image down the alley of the entrance to the residence of the president in Port-au-Prince on July 15, 2021, in the wake of Haitian President Jovenel Moise's assassination on July 7, 2021. Crédito: Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP via Getty Images

Mario Antonio Palacios, 43, was initially detained in Panama during a stopover of a flight on which he was being deported from Jamaica to Colombia, according to a press release by the U.S. Justice Department.

The former Colombian soldier who was wanted by Interpol for his alleged role in the assassination of Haiti's president, Jovenel Moise, in July last year, "agreed to travel" to the United States, the press release said.

He was later arrested by agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) after landing in Miami early on Tuesday morning and charged in Miami federal court with two counts of conspiracy to murder Moise.

At a court hearing Tuesday he told a U.S. judge that he is unemployed, owns a house in Cali, Colombia, and lives off his military pension of about $400 a month.

Haitian authorities had accused Palacios of forming part of a mercenary group that assassinated Moise in his bedroom on July 7 last year during an assault on his residence.

FBI affidavit

It turns out Palacios was cooperating with U.S. investigators since October, according to the affidavit of an FBI agent investigating the case and included in court documents filed by the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday. Palacios "was interviewed and provided law enforcement with voluntary statements," while in Jamaica, the agent, Michael Ferlazzo, stated.

It is unclear if Palacios has reached a formal cooperation agreement with U.S. authorities or simply agreed to answer questions.

That came as a shock to Palacios' friends and family who were waiting for him at Bogota airport in Colombia on Monday night.

“We don’t know what happened, we were at the airport expecting him last night,” said José Espinosa, a Colombian army veteran who represents several of the families of the former Colombian soldiers jailed in Haiti for Moise's murder. "We don't know if anything was negotiated," he added.

Espinosa said Palacios and the other former soldiers were hired by a Miami-based security firm, CTU Federal Academy, to go to Haiti but were unaware of the plot to kill the president.


“While the plot initially focused on conducting a kidnapping of the president as part of a purported arrest operation, it ultimately resulted in a plot to kill the Haitian President,” according to a Justice Department press release on Tuesday.

In his affidavit, the FBI agent said Palacios admitted that on July 6, the day before the fatal attack on Moise’s residence, “he was informed by some of the co-conspirators that the plan was to assassinate the Haitian president.”

Six months after the assassination, the details of Moïse’s death and the true masterminds remain unclear, and Palacios' cooperation could shine new light on important elements of the plot and possible U.S. links.

The FBI afidavit mentions another Haitian co-conspirator "responsible for providing equipment and training for security personnel in Haiti," including uniforms and bullet-proof jackets that were allegedly supplied by CTU in Miami, possibly in violation of U.S. export regulations.

CTU Security president Antonio Intriago is cooperating with U.S. law enforcement and says he knew nothing of the plot to kill Moise, according to his lawyers. His Colombian partner, Archangel Pretel, was responsible for recruiting Palacios and the other former soldiers. His whereabouts are unknown since shortly after the assassination.

Escape

Palacios has been identified by other witnesses as one of the members of the team that broke into Moise's residence and killed him. Unlike the others, he escaped in the chaos immediately after the assassination and managed to sneak out of the country by sea. He was arrested months later in Jamaica.

The Haitian authorities tried to extradite him but failed to produce the necessary documentation in time, according to the Jamaican authorities, who instead decided to deport him to his country of origin.

If convicted of the charges in the complaint, Palacios faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, though his cooperation with prosecutors could earn him a substantial sentence reduction.

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