• Sat. Sep 23rd, 2023


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Haitian Businessman Gets Life Sentence in Assassination of Haiti’s President

Despite cooperating with prosecutors, Rodolphe Jaar was given the maximum term by a judge in Miami, the first sentence handed down in what the authorities say was a sprawling plot.

A federal judge in Florida sentenced a businessman and former drug trafficker with Haitian and Chilean citizenship to life in prison on Friday for his role in the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti.

Rodolphe Jaar is the first person to be convicted and sentenced in what federal prosecutors have described as a sprawling conspiracy to murder the Haitian leader and seize power, aided by Haitian officials, Colombian mercenaries and illegal arms shipments from the United States. The killing unraveled the already fragile Haitian government, giving rise to lawlessness and extreme violence as gangs have stepped into the power vacuum.

Despite pleading guilty to three conspiracy charges for his role in the assassination, and agreeing to testify against his co-conspirators, Judge Jose E. Martinez of the Federal District Court in Miami gave Mr. Jaar the statutory maximum term of life imprisonment for all three counts, with restitution to be decided in August.

The leading role that the United States has taken in seeking justice for the murder of a foreign leader is an indication of how much the death of Mr. Moïse has destabilized his country and deepened the chronic dysfunction of the Haitian justice system. American officials have premised their investigation on their assertion that much of the conspiracy was planned in South Florida and involved American citizens.

Underscoring the longtime instability of the Haitian government, the sentencing came the same day that the State Department announced sanctions against Laurent Lamothe, a prime minister under former President Michel Martelly, over allegations that Mr. Lamothe misappropriated for private gain at least $60 million from the Haitian government’s PetroCaribe investment fund.

“Through this corrupt act and his direct involvement in the management of the fund, he exploited his role as a public official and contributed to the current instability in Haiti,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement.

Mr. Jaar was a major financial backer of the conspiracy that resulted in Moïse’s death, according to a proffer he submitted as part of his plea deal. Mr. Jaar said that he used his property — a house close to Mr. Moïse’s residence — as a base of operations, and provided the funds to purchase weapons to use in the attack. He also “provided funding to bribe certain Haitian officials who were responsible for providing security” for Mr. Moïse, according to the proffer, so the assassins could “obtain access” to the president.

Mr. Moïse, 53, died after being shot 12 times when a team of Spanish-speaking commandos stormed his home outside the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, in July 2021.

Prosecutors say the plot against Mr. Moïse evolved over time, from an audacious plan to kidnap the Haitian president and escape the country via airplane to the assassination that was ultimately carried out. Mr. Jaar was present when James Solages, a co-conspirator, announced in a meeting the night before Mr. Moïse was killed that their mission was a “C.I.A. operation” to kill the Haitian president, according to a court filing.

Mr. Jaar was on the run for more than six months after Mr. Moïse’s death before he was arrested in January 2022. He agreed to come to the United States voluntarily after being detained in the Dominican Republic, which borders Haiti.

While on the run, Mr. Jaar admitted in an interview with The New York Times that he had helped finance and plan the attack and revealed that others involved had believed they could wield some influence over the country’s politics after Mr. Moïse’s death.

In addition to Mr. Jaar, there are 10 other defendants in the sprawling Miami case, including a former Haitian senator, former Colombian soldiers, several U.S. citizens and Mr. Solages.