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Haiti's former police chief indicted on drug charges

francois March 7, 1997
Web posted at: 9:37 p.m. EST (0237 GMT)

MIAMI (CNN) -- The former head of Haiti's national police -- the man believed to have orchestrated the coup d'etat that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide -- has been arrested by U.S. drug agents and charged with conspiring to smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States.

Joseph Michel Francois was arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents Thursday night in Honduras, where he had been living. He and 12 other people -- all either Haitian or Haitian American -- were indicted on charges they conspired to ship cocaine from Medellin cocaine lords through Haiti and into the United States.

The federal indictment, handed up in Miami, alleges Francois and others built an airstrip on the property of a Haitian colonel "to facilitate the landing and offloading of cocaine laden planes arriving from Colombia."

Teamed up with Colombian drug lords, indictment says

The indictment said Francois "as one of the de facto leaders of Haiti, placed the political and military structure of the Republic of Haiti under his control."


Pablo Escobar, Jorge Luis Ochoa, Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez-Gacha and Jairo Correra -- all alleged Colombian drug lords -- decided "to pool their resources in opening a new narcotics route into the United States through the Republic of Haiti," according to the indictment.

Francois's men led the coup that ousted Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, in 1991. He fled the tiny Caribbean nation in 1994, two weeks after U.S. troops arrived to restore Aristide to power.

Hand-picked officials helped in operation, prosecutors say

While he was in power, Francois hand-picked the chief of the Port-au-Prince airport and other officials in control of maritime ports to facilitate smuggling of drugs through Haiti, the indictment charges.


The drugs were transported to the United States through couriers on commercial aircraft and vessels, the indictment said. The operation began in 1987 and lasted until 1996, it said.

Francois demanded and received payoffs of more than $1 million from other drug shippers using Haiti as a transhipment point to secure safe passage of the cocaine, according to the U.S. government. In other cases, Francois and others are charged with seizing cocaine and heroin that entered Haiti without his prior knowledge and then selling it to his counterparts for delivery in the United States.

Some also accused of bribes, money-laundering

To get the cocaine into the United States, the indictment charges, two people bribed key personnel at Miami International Airport to help smugglers slip through customs with cocaine-laden suitcases and body couriers.

Two of the defendants named in the indictment are charged with organizing a broad transportation and distribution network for the drugs throughout the United States -- in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, New York and Chicago.

Some members of the group are charged with laundering illegal profits from the drug trade and in some cases smuggling the laundered cash back into Haiti. The money was used to purchase real estate in Haiti and the United States, prosecutors said.


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