A former Haitian mayor has been arrested in the United States on three charges of visa fraud, a day after a court ordered him to pay $15.5m for his alleged role in the violent persecution of his political rivals.
Jean Morose Viliena, 50, is expected to appear before a federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, shortly after being detained on immigration-related charges on Wednesday. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
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In a statement, the US Attorney’s Office denounced the “horrific violence” the former mayor had committed in his home country of Haiti as leader of the commune of Les Irois, which is located on the island’s southwestern peninsula.
“Our nation offers protection, assistance and asylum to those who are persecuted,” US Attorney Rachael Rollins said in the press release. “People that perpetrate acts of violence and harm in their countries — and then allegedly lie about their conduct to US immigration officials — are not welcome here.”
Prosecutors accuse Viliena of lying to secure a visa into the US by concealing his violent past.
His visa application required that he affirm he had not “ordered, carried out or materially assisted in extrajudicial and political killings” in Haiti. Viliena allegedly checked the box saying he had not and later swore before a consular officer that his statements on the application were accurate, something prosecutors deny.
Instead, they link him to a campaign of persecution orchestrated through Korega, a political group in Haiti accused of using threats and violence to promote its interests and candidates.
During his tenure as mayor, from about 2006 to 2010, prosecutors say Viliena “personally supervised” armed groups and Korega militia members to enforce his policies and suppress any opposition.
Wednesday’s statement from prosecutors outlines two incidents — the first around July 2007, when a witness spoke out in court about an assault perpetrated against his neighbour and credited to Viliena.
That witness, David Boniface, said Viliena threatened him after the court proceeding. “He told me he would deal with me later,” Boniface told the news station WBUR in 2017.
That night, Viliena allegedly led a group of armed assailants to Boniface’s home. But Boniface was not there. Instead, Viliena and his associates grabbed Boniface’s younger brother, Ecclesiaste, and pulled him into the street where a group of bystanders could see, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
“They shot him in the head and afterwards sliced him up with machetes,” Boniface told WBUR. “Then they used a big rock to smash his head.”
The second incident outlined in the US Attorney’s Office report started around March 2008, with the establishment of a community radio station in Les Irois.
“Viliena opposed establishment of the radio station,” the report explained. To shut the station down, the report alleges that Viliena plotted an attack on the building early the next month.
“Viliena distributed firearms to the Korega militia members, some of whom also carried machetes, picks and sledgehammers,” the report said.
On the day of the attack, one victim was allegedly pistol-whipped and beaten by Viliena. When he tried to flee, Viliena ordered he be shot and killed, according to the report. The victim’s wounds were so severe his leg had to be amputated.
A second victim identified in the US Attorney’s Office report described being shot in the face on Viliena’s orders, leaving him permanently blind in one eye.
Those two victims, Nissage Martyr and Juders Yseme, later joined Boniface in pursuing a civil suit against Viliena in the US federal court, under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act. That law allows victims to seek damages against foreign officials accused of torture and extrajudicial killings, so long as all legal avenues in their home countries have been exhausted.
Prosecutors on Wednesday said Viliena was given permanent resident status in the US starting in 2008, which he used to then travel back and forth between Haiti.
“That this defendant, a former mayor in Haiti, is alleged to have personally committed or ordered the maiming, harm, humiliation or death of his adversaries and then blatantly deceived our country to seek refuge here is not only unacceptable, it is a crime,” Rollins, the US attorney, said.