US court sentences Haiti ex-gang leader to 35 years in prison

  • World
  • Tuesday, 25 Jun 2024

FILE PHOTO: Armed gang members walk through the streets near the presidential palace, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti April 23, 2024. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol/File Photo

(Reuters) -A Miami court on Monday sentenced Germine "Yonyon" Joly, a former leader of the notorious Haitian gang 400 Mawozo, to 35 years in prison for his role in laundering kidnapping ransoms and illegally trafficking U.S. firearms to Haiti, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Joly admitted in a plea document early this year to being part of a plot to smuggle U.S. firearms to Haiti and helping transfer funds, some of which were proceeds from ransoms obtained by kidnapping U.S. citizens.

The 400 Mawozo gang gained notoriety in April 2021 when they kidnapped five Catholic priests and two nuns, including two French citizens. Six months later, they kidnapped 17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries, including five children.

The gang's current leader, Joseph Wilson, known as Lanmo Sanjou, is on the FBI's most wanted list for his involvement in the 2021 kidnappings with a reward of up to $1 million.

U.S. prosecutors said Joly's gunrunning scheme had resulted in the purchase of at least 24 firearms, including AK-47s, AR-15s, an M4 Carbine rifle, an M1A rifle, and a military-grade .50 caliber rifle.

"The leaders of violent gangs in Haiti that terrorize Americans citizens in order to fuel their criminal activity will be met with the full force of the Justice Department," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement, while other U.S. agencies affirmed plans to better control gunrunning.

U.N. reports have shown that most firearms seized from gangs are smuggled from the United States. Mexico and countries across the Caribbean have pushed for the U.S. to do more to stem the flow of illegal firearms to criminal groups across the region.

In Haiti, more than half a million people have become internally displaced and hundreds of thousands of have been deported back to Haiti, which is facing a humanitarian crisis due to the gangs that now control most of its capital.

The U.N. estimates that nearly 2,500 people were kidnapped in Haiti last year, up from 1,359 in 2022.

Kenya has pledged to lead an international security mission to help out-gunned police fight the gangs, but the mission - first requested in 2022 - has yet to deploy, though the U.S. government said a first contingent could land this week.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland; Editing by Aida Pelaez-Fernandez and Sandra Maler)

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