Former Haiti rebel leader jailed for nine years in the US


Former Haiti rebel leader jailed for nine years in the US

Thursday, June 22, 2017

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FLORIDA, United States (AP) — A former Haitian rebel leader and recently elected member of the Senate in the Caribbean country was sentenced to nearly a decade in prison yesterday after accepting a plea deal that spared him a life sentence for drug trafficking.

Guy Philippe declined to speak as he was sentenced to nine years by US District Judge Cecilia Altonaga for money laundering and ordered to forfeit US$1.5 million. His lawyers portrayed the sentence as a good compromise for their client.

“The Government compromised their position by dismissing the more serious charges,” said defence attorney Alan Ross. “We compromised our position by giving up our pretrial motions, by pleading guilty and by not going to trial.”

Defence attorney Zeljka Bozanic said the agreement did not require Philippe to cooperate in any investigation of other Haitian officials, as some in Haiti have speculated.

“I know there are people in Haiti who like to spin things and that there are politicians in Haiti who like to spin things,” Bozanic said. “However, I can tell all those politicians that Mr Philippe is not cooperating. He's not snitching on anybody. He's not a snitch“.

Philippe, 49, admitted in court in April that, as a police commander in the city of Cap-Haitien, he accepted between US$1.5 million and US$3.5 million from drug smugglers from 1999 to 2003. Prosecutors say Philippe and other police officers took the money in exchange for ensuring safe passage for cocaine shipments from Colombia and other countries that went through Haiti on their way to Miami and other US destinations.

In 2004 Philippe led an uprising that ousted then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He was indicted along with several others on US drug charges in 2005, but managed to elude capture for more than a decade, including at least 10 attempts to arrest him in Haiti that involved a military operation and a foot chase through the countryside.

Philippe was elected to the Haitian Senate in November. He was arrested by Haitian police while giving a live radio interview in the capital of Port-au-Prince in January and whisked immediately to the US, prompting angry protests in his stronghold in south-western Haiti.

Altonaga rejected his claim of immunity as an elected Haitian official. The judge noted even if immunity applied, Philippe had not yet been officially sworn in.

A small group of protesters holding photos featuring a photo of Philippe with current Haiti President Jovenel Moise at a campaign rally, were outside the court in downtown Miami hoping for a longer sentence.

“He should get life in prison,” said Toto Kompere, leader of a community group that supports the party of Aristide. “So many families are crying because of him.”

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