One of Haiti’s most controversial figures is back in his troubled homeland after being deported from the United States on Thursday.
Guy Philippe, the former Haitian police commander who led a rebellion in 2004 that overthrew President Jean Bertrand Aristide and then spent nearly a dozen years evading U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, arrived on board an Immigration and Customs Enforcement flight along with more than a dozen others deportees. The flight departed from Alexandria, Louisiana, at 5:57 a.m.
In 2017, Philippe was sentenced to prison by a Miami federal judge after pleading guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy charge involving allegations that he had pocketed more than $1 million from Colombian cocaine traffickers. Despite cutting a plea deal with federal prosecutors to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison, he continued to maintain his innocence and accused U.S. authorities of “kidnapping” him from Haiti, where he was on his way to being sworn in as a senator when he was arrested by Haitian police.
Several Haitian officials contacted by the Miami Herald ahead of the flight’s arrival said they had not been warned by the Department of Homeland Security of Philippe’s pending return. A manifest of the flight’s passengers, sent to Port-au-Prince, initially only had 17 names, all of whom were people being repatriated after violating U.S. immigration law, Haiti’s Office of National Migration said.
Philippe’s presence back in Haiti, a country still reeling from the 2021 assassination of its president and now seeing the steady expansion of armed gangs out of the capital and into its countryside, has raised concerns given the volatile landscape, the ongoing leadership void and Philippe’s popularity and political connections.
During the 2016 elections Philippe ran for office to represent the rural Grand’Anse region as a senator, and won. His arrest came in early January 2017 as he was visiting a radio station in the capital ahead of his swearing-in. He was then turned over to the DEA.
Though Philippe tried to claim immunity from prosecution as a senator-elect in Haiti, he ended up pleading guilty in April 2017 to the money-laundering conspiracy charge. The deal allowed him to avoid going to trial on a more serious trafficking charge that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life.
Instead, he faced up to 20 years on the money-laundering conviction and got less than half that time from U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga.
Philippe’s sentencing culminated a federal investigation into drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption at the highest levels of Haiti’s government that began in the 2000s when the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the neighboring Dominican Republic, became a notorious hub for shipping South American cocaine into the United States.
For years, Aristide, who was ousted in 2004 in an armed revolt led by Philippe, had been investigated by a Miami federal grand jury for accepting drug bribes, though charges were never filed.
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