HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was taken into police custody immediately upon his arrival in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday after his deportation from the United States.
Wearing a black jacket and a white face mask, Constant was arrested by police on the tarmac of Port-au-Prince’s international airport upon arriving back in Haiti after 26 years in the United States and whisked away.
“Emmanuel ‘Toto’ Constant is at the disposition of the justice system for the acts of which he is accused,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
Constant founded a paramilitary group in Haiti in the early 1990s that he says was aimed at upholding peace after the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide but that rights activists say murdered and tortured thousands of the leftist leader’s supporters.
Constant, who made no comment to reporters upon his arrival on Tuesday, has said in the past he was being used as a scapegoat for rights abuses committed under military rule.
He fled Haiti in 1994 when Aristide was restored to power, becoming a real estate agent in New York’s borough of Queens. He was convicted in 2008 of mortgage fraud and larceny and served more than a decade in a U.S. prison.
A U.S. court in 2007 also found him “liable for torture, attempted extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity” in Haiti and ordered him to pay $19 million to three women who say they were raped and had their breasts slashed by his men.
Constant was released from prison into U.S. immigration custody in April. Human rights campaigners on Tuesday warned that the case was a test of the floundering justice system in Haiti, the western hemisphere’s poorest country.
Constant himself was convicted in absentia in the 2000s for his role in a 1994 massacre of slum residents in Gonaives, only for that conviction to be later overturned on a technicality.
Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Cynthia Osterman