U.S. arrests former Haitian mayor accused of political violence

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Gang violence in Port-au-Prince

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) -A former Haitian mayor was arrested on U.S. visa fraud charges on Wednesday, a day after a jury ordered him to pay $15.5 million over allegations he led a brutal campaign to kill and torture his political opponents.

Federal prosecutors in Boston said Jean Morose Viliena, 50, illegally obtained a green card allowing him to live permanently in the United States by falsely claiming he had not ordered or carried out extrajudicial and political killings in Haiti.

Prosecutors said that in fact, he personally committed or ordered the maiming, harm, humiliation or death of his adversaries after being elected to a four-year term as the mayor of Les Irois, Haiti, in December 2006.

He successfully obtained a visa in 2008. He's now a truck driver living in Malden, Massachusetts. Viliena's lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

The indictment came a day after a federal jury in Boston ordered him to pay $15.5 million in a lawsuit by three Haitian citizens -- David Boniface, Juders Yseme, and Nissage Martyr -- accusing Viliena of persecuting them or their relatives.

The case shed a light on widespread violence that has plagued Haiti, and Wednesday's indictment mirrored the lawsuit's allegations against Viliena.

The plaintiffs said Viliena in 2007 led a group of armed men to Boniface's home who beat and fatally shot his brother, and later mobilized a group in 2008 that beat and shot Martyr and Yseme at a community radio station.

Martyr lost a leg and Yseme was blinded in one eye. Martyr died in 2017 soon after suing.

"The atrocities alleged here – the extrajudicial torture, murder and attempted murder of multiple people – are hard to comprehend," U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, said in a statement.

The Center for Justice and Accountability, a human rights group that represents the men, in a statement welcomed Viliena's arrest while calling for human rights charges to be brought too, citing "the strong evidence of torture and other abuses."

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Daniel Wallis)