Former Haiti coup leader admits drug-money laundering charge

Former Haiti coup leader admits drug-money laundering charge

Miami (AFP) - A former Haitian coup leader who was elected to be a senator pleaded guilty in the US on Monday to conspiring to launder drug money, American officials said.

Guy Philippe, a 49-year-old former senior police officer accused of taking bribes from drug traffickers, entered the plea in court in Miami, where he has been held since his arrest and extradition from Haiti in January.

He faces up to 20 years in prison in a sentence to be delivered by a judge on July 5, according to a statement by the US Justice Department.

Philippe was elected to the Haitian parliament in November. He had close ties to the country's President Jovenel Moise.

In 2004, he helped lead an armed rebellion against then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was forced to flee the country.

He was arrested in Haiti on January 5 this year on US drug charges hanging over him since 2005 and transferred to Florida the next day -- just three days before he was to be sworn in as a senator, which would have given him immunity from prosecution.

Philippe on Monday pleaded guilty to abusing his position as a high-ranking police officer to protect narcotics shipments headed to the US between 1999 and 2003, the statement said.

He did so in exchange for bribes from drug traffickers that totalled between $1.5 million and $3.5 million.

Philippe "admitted to accepting bribes... and to assisting a drug operation that brought cocaine into Miami," a Miami-based Internal Revenue Service special agent handling criminal investigations, Kelly Jackson, said in the statement.

Philippe gave some of the bribe money to other Haitian police and security personnel to ensure their cooperation, the Justice Department said. His cut was used to buy a Florida house and for his use and his family's while in the US.

The statement said, in one instance, Philippe wired $376,000 from cocaine sales to his joint bank account in Miami from banks in Haiti and Ecuador using the names of others.

He also admitted to organizing $70,000 in drug proceeds to be deposited into his account in amounts under the $10,000 level that triggers US reporting requirements.