A Florida gun shop owner was recently convicted for trafficking firearms to Haiti with the help of a senator and several other top government officials, raising questions about government corruption in the Caribbean nation’s illegal arms trade.
Gun shop owner Junior Joseph was found guilty of conspiring with a Haitian senator and other individuals to illegally traffic 166 semi-automatic firearms and 30,000 rounds of ammunition hidden in the back of a truck shipped to Haiti in August 2016, the Miami Herald reported.
In early August 2016, prosecutors say that Joseph delivered the Mitsubishi truck containing “household goods, an unlocked safe, ammunition, 159 shotguns, five AR-15 rifles” and other semi-automatic weapons to a shipping company in Port of Palm Beach, Florida, according to the indictment.
Days later, Joseph allegedly sent copies of the shipping information regarding the weapons stash hidden inside the truck to Haitian Senator Herve Fourcand and one of his associates. In one of the messages intercepted by prosecutors, Joseph tells another individual in Haiti that he “would like to get help” to “remove a truck from customs,” adding that the help should be “inspection free.”
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking
The contact in Haiti said they should be able to "clear it without any problem." However, Joseph later received a message from this same associate in September 2016 advising him that “everything went south today, the car was confiscated … and the police know what they are going to do," the indictment states.
The truck had reached the western port of St. Marc in Artibonite department, outside of the capital Port-au-Prince. The cache of illegal weapons was found during a routine inspection.
Joseph also allegedly exchanged messages with Senator Fourcand’s brother, Edouard “Dollar,” the “pseudonym of a close associate of the country’s recently replaced police chief [Godson Orélus] who has been jailed on weapons charges in Haiti in connection with the smuggled shipment,” according to the Miami Herald.
Fourcand was not charged in the criminal case, but his name and that of former police chief Orélus were “prominently mentioned” throughout the US trial. A Haitian judge charged eight others, including the former police chief and several officials, with crimes ranging from illicit firearms and ammunition trafficking to money laundering, according to the Miami Herald.
Junior's brother, Jimy, is also facing charges in connection to the case. Lawyers for both brothers declined InSight Crime's request for comment.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arms trafficking cases unfolding in the United States and Haiti highlight the amount of illegal weapons flooding the Caribbean nation despite the United States’ arms embargo against it, and the role that political elites play in facilitating the safe passage of such arms.
Junior Joseph applied for licenses through the US State and Commerce departments for authorization to "engage in training and support activities for private security contractors" approved by Haiti's National Police and Interior Ministry, according to court documents.
He was first granted a license by the US Commerce Department, which controls the importation of shotguns into Haiti, in April 2016. This authorized him to import guns, shells, bulletproof vests, and other items to his Global Dynasty Corp. S.A. in Haiti, a subsidiary of his eponymous US company. However, the Commerce Department later revoked the license, saying the exports were "no longer deemed to be in the foreign policy interests of the United States," according to court documents. Joseph was officially notified of this in May 2016.
Shortly after being made aware that his license had been revoked, emails show Joseph discussing the importation of bulletproof vests into Haiti. Among the documents Joseph cited as authorizing the shipment was a "weapons import certificate" signed by the recently jailed former Police Chief Orélus, according to the Miami Herald.
However, under the US arms embargo, any firearms sent into Haiti must go through the US State Department. An analyst with the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) said during Junior Joseph’s trial that when officials contacted the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince, "Haiti’s National Police and government denied they had any contract with Global Dynasty Corp,” the Miami Herald reported.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Haiti
A 2016 Haiti National Police investigation, according to the Miami Herald, found that Global Dynasty, S.A. in Haiti "only existed on paper." What's more, the company was never even listed as the receiver of the arms. As part of the investigation into the illegal firearms shipment, it was discovered that one of Joseph’s cousins who helped him ship the truck from Florida to Haiti had “listed himself as the shipper and receiver,” according to the Miami Herald.
The implication is that Global Dynasty may have been taking purchase orders for weapons and then shipping these weapons to third parties in Haiti and not the police, the alleged intended recipient.
Politicians in Haiti have long been accused of helping direct firearms into the country to arm gangs and politically connected militias in exchange for their backing and support. Still, it’s unclear who was ultimately going to receive the weapons shipped from the United State and into Haiti with the help of Senator Fourcand.
That said, the location of the seized weapons in Haiti may offer some clues. The port of St. Marc is in Artibonite department where Senator Youri Latortue was in power for many years. In the past, colleagues and other sources have accused Latortue of being the “most brazenly corrupt of leading Haitian politicians” and a “drug dealer,” in addition to “distributing weapons in an effort to destabilize the government,” according to a November 2006 WikiLeaks cable. The cable says Latortue’s “close associations with armed gangs and drug traffickers” contributes to his ability to “manipulate the region.”
Latortue's name has not yet been mentioned at all. Both he and Fourcand also have not been arrested or charged with any crimes in Haiti or the United States. With the trial of Junior Joseph’s brother, Jimy, set to begin this week in the United States, it is possible other high-ranking Haitian officials may be implicated.