U.S. charges ex-Haiti coup leader with drug trafficking conspiracy

(Reuters) - The leader of a 2004 coup that toppled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and who had been wanted for more than a decade by U.S. authorities, was charged on Friday in the United States with engaging in drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracies.

Haitians walk past posters of presidential candidate Guy Philippe at a street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 3, 2006. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Guy Philippe, 48, faces a three-count indictment including conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, conspiring to launder money, and engaging in monetary transactions stemming from unlawful activity, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Philippe was ordered held without bond at a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Garber in Miami, the Justice Department said.

The hearing came one day after Philippe was arrested in Haiti and extradited to the United States.

An arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 13. The indictment dates from November 2005, and was made public on Friday.

“The indictment speaks for itself,” Richard Dansoh, a lawyer for Philippe, said in a phone interview. “Be that as it may, there are some jurisdictional hurdles that we have to cross.”

As to the accusations against Philippe, Dansoh said: “Clearly, he’s not guilty.”

Philippe’s arrest came four days before he had been expected to join Haiti’s parliament as a senator, following his Nov. 20 election from the country’s southwestern Grand Anse region.

The defendant was arrested after he had given a radio interview in Petionville, near the capital of Port-au-Prince.

He was then taken to a police station, where U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents were waiting.

According to the indictment, Philippe conspired with others from 1997 to March 2001 to import more than five kilograms (11 lbs) of cocaine into the United States, and from June 1999 to April 2003 to launder money to conceal illegal activity.

Philippe was also accused of having in late 2000 transferred a $112,000 check that included sums from drug trafficking, the Justice Department said.

Joris Mergelus, head of Haiti’s anti-drug unit, said Philippe was arrested after an international drug trafficking warrant.

The case is U.S. v. Philippe, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 05-20874.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis