Haitian businessman accused in President Moïse murder faces up to life in prison

·9 min read

A U.S. investigation into the assassination of Haiti’s president took a leap forward this week with the arrest of a convicted Haitian drug trafficker and former DEA informant who is accused of playing a key role in providing housing, weapons and other support to a group of Colombian commandos suspected of murdering Jovenel Moïse in his home outside Port-au-Prince in July.

Rodolphe Jaar, 49, who agreed to be flown to Miami Wednesday after his recent arrest in the Dominican Republic, is also accused of meeting with a Haitian-American co-conspirator before the deadly plot was carried out and of helping him and others allegedly tied to Moïse’s assassination hide in its aftermath, according to an FBI criminal complaint and affidavit unsealed Thursday.

During an interview in December while in hiding in Port-au-Prince and weeks before his arrest, Jaar admitted to U.S. investigators that “he provided firearms and ammunition to the Colombians to support the assassination operation,” the FBI affidavit says. “He stated that the operation changed from an arrest ... [to remove Moïse from office] to an assassination operation after the initial plan to ‘capture’ the Haitian president at the [Port-au-Prince] airport and take him away by plane did not go forward.”

Jaar was escorted by U.S. federal agents from the Dominican Republic, where he was detained after crossing the border it shares with Haiti earlier this month.

During his first appearance in Miami federal court Thursday, Jaar was charged with providing material support resulting in the death of Haiti’s president and conspiring to kill or kidnap him outside the United States. Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis assigned the federal public defender’s office to represent him because Jaar, who was running a poultry business in Haiti, said he has no money or assets to pay for a lawyer.

A pedestrian walks past a burned house that stands next to the residence of Haiti’s late President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, July 15, 2021.
A pedestrian walks past a burned house that stands next to the residence of Haiti’s late President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, July 15, 2021.

For now, Jaar will be housed at the Miami Federal Detention Center, where he will be held in isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he is scheduled for another court hearing next Wednesday on his detention and an arraignment on Feb. 3.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter Norkin said he would be seeking Jaar’s continued detention, noting that he is not only charged with a serious crime that carries a potential life sentence but he is a flight risk. He also said Jaar was convicted of cocaine trafficking a decade ago. He served only four years in prison after providing U.S. authorities with information on drug smuggling.

Jaar is the second suspect to be arrested in the U.S. probe of Moïse’s assassination. In early January, U.S. authorities arrested a former Colombian sergeant, Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, who had fled to Jamaica after months of hiding in Haiti and was deported back to Colombia by a Jamaican judge. During a layover in Panama, he was detained and told there was an arrest warrant for him in the United States.

U.S. investigators also have their sights on a third suspect, a former Haitian senator, John Joël Joseph, who is in custody in Jamaica, where he is being held on an immigration violation. Joseph, whose passport lists his name as Joseph Joel John, appeared in court Thursday in Kingston, but his hearing was postponed until mid-February. He was arrested at a house in rural St. Elizabeth Parish over the weekend, along with his wife and two children after entering the English-speaking Caribbean nation by boat — also after spending months in hiding.

Although 44 Colombians, Haitians and Haitian Americans were arrested as part of Haiti’s investigation of the president’s July 7, 2021, murder, that country’s probe has run into roadblocks, including the recent firing of the investigative judge who had been overseeing the Haiti National Police case.

Meanwhile, more than six months after Moïse’s brazen killing, the U.S. probe is gaining significant momentum as both the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations continue to focus on foreign and South Florida suspects, including a Miami-area security firm, its owner and others who are suspected of recruiting about 20 ex-Colombian soldiers and providing training, equipment and other support to them before the president’s assassination.

U.S. investigators have stitched together their own case by using the investigative work of Haiti’s judicial police, who produced a 124-page summary of their exhaustive investigation. The report, obtained by the Miami Herald, describes meetings between the various suspects, including Jaar, and cellphone logs. During their parallel investigation U.S. federal agents also obtained text messages.

According to the FBI affidavit for Jaar’s arrest, the Haitian businessman not only provided weapons to the Colombian commandos to carry out the mission targeting Moïse, but also met with an unnamed collaborator, identified as “co-conspirator #1,” one of three Haitian Americans now jailed in Haiti. The Herald has learned his name is James Solages, who claims to be a translator but was at the president’s home when Moïse was killed and shouted that the assault was a “DEA operation.”

According to witness statements, Jaar collaborated with Solages and others in a plot to have Moïse arrested in mid-June of last year at the Port-au-Prince airport upon his return from an official visit to Turkey.

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was interviewed in February 2020. at his Pétionville home, where, more than a year later, he was assassinated.
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was interviewed in February 2020. at his Pétionville home, where, more than a year later, he was assassinated.

According to the Haiti National Police investigative report, Solages told investigators that the plan was to capture Moïse at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport. Moïse visited the country on June 17 with his wife, Martine, and a government delegation. By June 19, they were back in Port-au-Prince. However, the plan to arrest him failed because “the private plane assigned for this purpose was not available.”

“According to witness statements, Jaar was present when [Solages] secured the signature of a former Haitian judge on a written request for assistance to further the arrest and the imprisonment of President Moïse, as well as purporting to provide Haitian immunity for such actions,” the FBI affidavit says.

But after that initial plot failed, “co-conspirator #1” [Solages] traveled from Haiti to Miami on June 28 and “provided other individuals with the document,” the affidavit says. The Herald has learned that Solages shared that information with the Miami-area security firm CTU, owned by Antonio Intriago.

“According to interviews of several co-conspirators in Haitian custody, by this point certain co-conspirators had knowledge of, or at least believed, that the plan was to assassinate rather than kidnap President Moïse,” the affidavit says. On July 1, “co-conspirator #1 [Solages] flew from Florida to Haiti to participate in the operation.

On July 7, some of the Colombian commandos, Haiti police working security and others stormed the president’s hillside compound in Pétionville and entered his home with the “intent and purpose of killing” Moïse, the affidavit says. Later that day, Jaar spoke with “co-conspirator #1” and others to assist [Solages] and the Colombians, “who were hiding and feared that they would be captured and/or killed by Haitian authorities.”

After the assassination, about 11 of the suspects, dressed in military gear, ended up hiding in Taiwan’s closed embassy after breaking in to escape a police manhunt that led to the death of three of the Colombians.

Jaar admitted to federal agents that in an attempt to help the Colombians and Solages get away, he directed them to “hide in another country’s embassy in Haiti.”

Solages was later arrested by Haitian authorities after he and a fellow Haitian-American suspect, Joseph Vincent, called the police director and turned themselves in.

Haitian police described Jaar as playing a central role both in the lead-up to the attack against the president and on the night of. While neither their report nor the criminal complaint says if he was among those at the scene on July 7, Haiti police say he was in contact 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.

The two men exchanged over 200 phone calls between May and June, police said.

Moïse, 53, was riddled with a dozen bullets, while his wife, who was wounded, and their two children survived the attack.

Neither the U.S. affidavit nor the Haitian police report says why the plans were changed. But statements gathered so far allege that the plan involved a wide cast of characters, including a Haiti-born doctor who had ambitions of replacing Moïse and claimed he had U.S. backing while purportedly hiring the Colombians to provide him with security and an ex-government functionary who closely monitored the president’s activities.

During the investigation, Haiti police focused heavily on the role of Supreme Court Judge Windelle Coq Thélot, who had been fired by Moïse five months earlier after her name was mentioned as a possible replacement for him amid an alleged coup d’état attempt and constitutional row over the true end of his term. Some had argued Moïse was supposed to leave office Feb. 7, 2021.

Thélot, who went into hiding after police featured her in a wanted poster, denied any involvement in the assassination in an interview with the Herald. Now, however, a document including her name has been filed in connection with Jaar’s arrest.

According to Haiti police, Thélot signed a document seeking assistance from CTU Security on June 22, days before Solages returned to the United States to seek help.

“The Haitian [doctor] recruited CTU and CTU recruited the Colombians. That’s the pattern,” then-Haiti National Police Chief Léon Charles said back in July when he announced the arrest of Christian Emmanuel Sanon, the Haiti-born doctor accused of being an intellectual author of the plot.

CTU, which has denied any involvement in the assassination through its attorneys, later included a copy of the signed document with a signature for Thélot and District Attorney Gerald Norgaisse, requesting help from CTU owner Intriago. Both Thélot and Norgaisse denied to the Herald that the signatures belonged them.

Norgaisse’s former boss, District Attorney Bedford Claude, who had been leading the investigation with police but had since been fired, backed up Norgaisse’s claim that “it is not his signature” on the letter.

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