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Former Haiti Offical Arrested in US on Drug Charges - 2004-03-23


U.S. officials have detained a senior aide to former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide on drug trafficking charges. American officials say more arrests are likely in the wide ranging investigation into drug trafficking in Haiti.

Until last year, Oriel Jean was one of Jean Bertrand Aristide's closest aides. Mr. Jean was Mr. Aristide's chief of security from 2001 to 2003 working out of an office in the National Palace.

Now, Mr. Jean is in the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami charged with one count of conspiracy to traffic cocaine.

Oriel Jean is the most senior former Haitian official to be detained on drug trafficking charges in years. Joe Kilmer, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami, says he expects an indictment soon as part of a broad investigation into drug trafficking in Haiti.

"I think it is safe to say that Mr. Jean will be indicted in the very near future," he said. "As for other targets of the investigation, obviously I cannot go into who they maybe. I can tell you the agents will take the case to its highest level which is what we try and do in every investigation and see where the case leads us."

Mr. Kilmer says Oriel Jean voluntarily turned himself in to U.S. officials following his detention in Canada on immigration charges, after fleeing Haiti following the collapse of the Aristide government last month.

Mr. Jean's U.S. visa was canceled last year, and he was forced to leave his post after the drug trafficking allegations surfaced. The affidavit against him is based on testimony from informants who say Mr. Jean accepted large amounts of money in exchange for allowing cocaine shipments to pass through Haiti. A lawyer for Mr. Jean says his client will vigorously fight the charges.

Drug traffickers have used Haiti for years as a transit and drop off point for large quantities of cocaine and heroin being shipped from Colombia to the United States. Haiti is also used by traffickers as a money laundering location for large amounts of cash generated by drug sales.

Last year the U.S. government criticized Mr. Aristide's government for failing demonstrably to combat drug trafficking.

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