MEXICO CITY — The United States has arrested a Colombian accused of participating in the murder of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti — the first suspect to face U.S. prosecution in relation to the crime.
Mario Palacios was detained by U.S. authorities at an airport in Panama on Monday, and flown from there to Miami. He will appear before a federal judge on Tuesday to face as yet unspecified charges, according to a Justice Department spokesperson.
His arrest was first reported by The Miami Herald.
Mr. Palacios, 43, was among two dozen retired members of Colombian military special forces who traveled to Haiti between May and June as private security contractors hired by a Miami-based security firm called CTU Security, according to interviews with their families and Haitian police. Once in Haiti, their mission appears to have gradually changed from providing protection to local dignitaries to storming the presidential residence in an operation that resulted in Mr. Moïse’s death last July, according to Haitian police and Colombian intelligence.
Mr. Moïse was gunned down in his bedroom by assassins who spoke Spanish, according to his wife, Martine Moïse, who was injured in the attack. However, the exact identity of the killers, the details of Mr. Moïse’s death and the ultimate mastermind of the plot remain unknown.
Mr. Palacios could help shed light on some of those questions. He was among the five Colombian ex-soldiers who formed part of the “Delta Team,” which entered his residence during the attack, according to the preliminary investigation report by the Haitian police.
After the assault he was the only one of his companions to escape Haitian authorities. He eventually fled to Jamaica, where he was detained. The authorities there decided to return him to Colombia, but U.S. agents intervened Monday on a stopover in Panama.
Three Colombian soldiers said to have taken part in the operation against Mr. Moïse were killed by the Haitian police, and the remaining 18 were captured and jailed in the capital, Port-au-Prince. They have yet to be formally charged.
Some of the detained soldiers have confessed to participating in the murder in their initial depositions, according to the police reports. Since then, however, they have retracted their confessions, claiming that they were obtained under torture and that they are being framed for a crime they did not commit.
“I don’t know who killed him. I’m telling you that from my heart, I swear on my family, my sons,” Mr. Palacios told the Colombian magazine Semana while in hiding in Port-au-Prince in August. He said that when he arrived in Mr. Moïse’s bedroom, the president was already dead.