PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - A former Haitian coup leader wanted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for alleged cocaine trafficking and money laundering has won election to Haiti’s Senate, according to preliminary results released by the electoral council.
Guy Philippe defeated all other candidates in the second round of elections, held on Nov. 20, for the southwestern Grand Anse region, which is still recovering from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Matthew.
“Victory, thank you Grand Anse,” said a message posted on Philippe’s Facebook page late on Sunday. “My fellow compatriots, together we will accomplish and live a patriotic act of faith.”
In Haiti, losing candidates have a period in which to file complaints about the results. If Philippe’s win stands, he would take office early next year for a six-year term.
In 2004, the former police officer, who Human Rights Watch said had overseen extrajudicial killings, was a prominent figure in a coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
His election underscores political turmoil in impoverished Haiti, which is still struggling to establish democratic institutions more than 20 years after it threw off a dictatorship.
The DEA has a long-standing arrest warrant against Philippe and lists him as one of its Most Wanted Fugitives, accusing him of conspiracy to import cocaine and launder monetary instruments. He has denied the accusations and said the United States had no legal jurisdiction to make arrests in Haiti.
DEA agents backed by Haitian police made a failed bid to arrest Philippe in 2007. He was not at home when the agents showed up.
The DEA spokeswoman for Miami, Anne Judith Lambert, said the agency could not comment on Philippe because the warrant was active. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said it had no official position on Philippe’s electoral victory.
Earlier this year, Philippe threatened an uprising against any transitional government put in place after President Michel Martelly left power with no elected successor.
He was later suspected of involvement in an attack on police headquarters in the southern Haitian city of Les Cayes that killed at least six people. One of the detained gunmen said Philippe had commissioned the assault, which involved some 50 men.
Haitian police issued a warrant for Philippe’s arrest after the attack in Les Cayes. His lawyers have argued that the warrant was invalid because he was a candidate.
Election to Haiti’s parliament will mean Philippe will have legal immunity from some but not all criminal proceedings.
Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Peter Cooney