WASHINGTON - Rodolphe Jaar, 49, a Haitian businessman who holds Haiti-Chilean dual nationality, was charged Thursday in U.S. federal court in Miami in connection with the assassination Haitian President Jovenel Moise.
Jaar is accused of "conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States and providing material support resulting in death, knowing or intending that such material support would be used to prepare for or carry out the conspiracy to kill or kidnap."
Moise was shot and killed inside his residence in an upscale Port-au-Prince suburb in the early hours of July 7, 2021. His wife, Martine, was injured during the attack and was flown to Miami for treatment.
If convicted, Jaar faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida told the defendant.
Jaar, who appeared via Zoom because of COVID-19 restrictions, was transferred to Miami from the Dominican Republic on Wednesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter Norkin said during the hearing. Jaar wore a beige prison uniform and was handcuffed. Four law enforcement officers and two other defendants were also in the room.
According to the complaint seen by VOA, Jaar provided housing for 20 Colombians with military experience who were recruited to execute an arrest warrant for Moise.
Jaar answered the judge's questions in English. He said he had not earned any income for six months, had no U.S. bank account, real estate, assets or vehicles in the U.S. and that he had about $2,000 in a Haitian bank account.
Louis appointed him an attorney based on his testimony. Attorney Joaquin Padilla will represent him for the time being. Padilla asked the judge to give him a few days to speak to his client before going forward. The request was granted.
Norkin argued that Jaar should be held without bond, noting that he has no legal status in the United States and has a criminal record.
Reports by U.S. media that Jaar worked as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) after he was arrested in South Florida in 2013 were not confirmed by the FBI when asked by VOA.
The judge asked Norkin if the Haitian Consulate had been notified of Jaar's detention. He replied, 'not yet' and was ordered to do so by Friday.
VOA Creole contacted the Haitian Embassy in Washington to ask about the notification. They responded that Ambassador Bocchit Edmond had no comment because the investigation is ongoing.
Jaar's next scheduled court appearance, a preliminary hearing, is set for Jan. 26 in Miami. He will then appear Jan. 27 for an arraignment hearing.
Haiti has charged more than 40 people in connection with the assassination. Some are detained in Haiti, one died of COVID-19 during his detention, and others were released because there was insufficient evidence against them.
In addition to Jaar's detention after crossing the Haitian border into the Dominican Republic last week, former Haitian Senator John Joel Joseph was detained by Jamaican officials in Kingston.
Another suspect, Samir Handal, was arrested by Turkish officials in Istanbul after arriving at the airport Nov. 16, upon request of Haiti's then-Foreign Minister Claude Joseph.
U.S. law enforcement officials have assisted Haiti in the investigation into the assassination of the president at the request of the Haitian government.
"The United States supports a thorough, independent investigation into President Moise's assassination consistent with both Haitian law and international rule of law standards," a State Department spokesperson told VOA. "We want to see those who planned, funded, and carried out the assassination of former President Moise held accountable."
VOA State Department Correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.