U.S. authorities on Tuesday charged a Colombian man with conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States in connection with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, the first official charges in the brazen crime.
Haiti has arrested dozens of people following the July murder that left a political vacuum in the Caribbean nation. But it has not charged anyone, and the investigation has drawn complaints in that country about delays and intimidation of officials.
The U.S. Justice Department said in a statement that Mario Palacios, a former Colombian military officer, was part of a conspiracy that first planned to kidnap Moise but evolved into an assassination plot after conspirators were unable to find a plane to take the president out of Haiti.
“The complaint affidavit alleges that, on July 7, 2021, Palacios and others entered the president’s residence in Haiti with the intent and purpose of killing President Moise, and in fact the president was killed,” the Justice Department said in the statement.
Palacios was also charged with “providing material support resulting in death.”
One member of the conspiracy, a Haitian-American man it described as “Co-conspirator #1,” traveled to the United States in late June to request assistance to further the plot,” according to the statement.
Palacios on Tuesday afternoon made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Miami, dressed in civilian clothing with handcuffs on his wrists that were linked to a chain around his waist.
Palacios, speaking in Spanish, told the court via an interpreter that he does not know anyone in the United States and that his only income is a Colombian military pension worth the equivalent of around $375 a month.
Palacios was part of a five-man group known as the “Delta Team” that entered Moise’s bedroom to gun him down, according to an August report by the Haitian National Police on the murder. The other four members of that group are in Haitian custody.
“Prime Minister Ariel Henry wants justice to prevail in the villainous assassination of Jovenel Moise,” a spokesman for the prime minister’s office said when asked earlier about the arrest.
Palacios was detained in Jamaica in October and was being deported to Colombia on Monday. During a layover in Panama, he agreed to travel to the United States instead, the U.S. Justice Department said.Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas and Marco Bello in Miami; Additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota, Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince, and Milagro Vallecillos in Panama City; Editing by Jonathan Oatis