Originally: Former Haitian senator to face cocaine-smuggling charge
The U.S. investigation into drugs, money and corruption under Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide stretched Tuesday from the ranks of the Haitian National Police into the upper echelon of the Senate and ruling political party.
Fourel Celestin, a former president of the Senate and member of Aristide?s Famni Lavalas Party, was taken into custody Tuesday at the Miami offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He is being held without bail.
The DEA and the anti-drug unit of the national police searched Celestin?s Port-au-Prince home last week, a top Haitian police official said. Celestin was not home at the time of the search, which uncovered nothing.
After learning of the search, Celestin turned himself in at the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday morning, officials in Haiti said. He is scheduled to appear this afternoon before a federal magistrate in Miami, where he will be presented with a criminal complaint charging him with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.
The complaint alleges that Celestin was involved in drug activity from 1995 to January 2003. He is the fifth Haitian official to face U.S. drug charges since Aristide was forced out in February.
Rudy Therassan, a former commander of the national police, was indicted Friday by a federal grand jury in Miami. He is accused of eight counts of cocaine conspiracy and money laundering, and federal authorities are seeking the forfeiture of nearly $1.9 million in alleged drug-trafficking proceeds.
Oriel Jean, Aristide?s former head of palace security ; Jean Nesly Lucien, former director-general of the national police, and Evintz Brillant, former chief of narcotics for the national police, also are in custody, accused in criminal complaints with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.
Jean, one of Aristide?s trusted aides, was arrested in March ; Lucien and Brillant were taken into custody last week.
Affidavits filed in the cases have not implicated Aristide, but Bush administration officials have made no secret of the investigation into whether Aristide was corrupted by drug money.
“The U.S. government is trying to build a phony case to prevent President Aristide from taking his rightful place as president,” said Ira Kurzban, an attorney who has represented the Haitian government in the United States.
“Some people may in fact be involved in drugs,” he added. “I know the president wasn?t involved. I know the ministers weren?t involved, including the prime minister. And this is simply another way to limit President Aristide?s movements.”
Until August, Celestin represented the southeastern region of Haiti, including the tourist city of Jacmel, according to a court affidavit unsealed late Tuesday.
A DEA informant, identified as a cocaine trafficker who has been convicted and sentenced in South Florida, said he paid Celestin bribes of $50,000 to $100,000. He did so because he thought Celestin controlled Jacmel?s mayor and police chief, according to the affidavit by DEA agent Noble Harrison.
Two other informants, identified at a previous court hearing as Jean and Haitian cocaine kingpin Beaudouin “Jacques” Ketant, helped the DEA build its case against Celestin, according to the affidavit.
Four days before Aristide was ousted, Ketant was sentenced in Miami to 27 years in prison for cocaine conspiracy and money laundering. He accused Aristide of controlling the drug trade in Haiti.
Ketant and the other informants said Celestin took money from traffickers to protect shipments passing through Haiti on the way to the United States.
Ketant stated he regularly paid Celestin in installments of $10,000 to $20,000. Other traffickers also paid him, Ketant said, according to the affidavit.
The federal court papers described the 2001 crash of a small plane off Route 2 near Gonaive, Haiti. Jean told agents that Haitian National Police officers unloaded the cocaine, put it into official police cars and took it to Celestin?s home in Port-au-Prince.
The affidavit also described a 2002 incident in which a boat transporting cocaine ran aground off the coast near Jacmel. Police unloaded the boat and took it to the police chief?s house, where it was stored for Celestin. Jean demanded his share and Celestin paid him $10,000, the affidavit stated.
He stepped down from the senate unexpectedly on Aug. 28, warning his political enemies, “It is very easy to break the bottle. But it is impossible to pick up the broken pieces with bare hands.”