Frantz Cole

The former executive secretary, chief operations officer and accountant of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, used their church offices as a front for a criminal gang that smuggled arms into the Caribbean nation, a report released by the Haitian National Police (PNH) claims.   The 3 April 2023 statement accuses the Rev. Frantz Cole, Shikumbuzo Vundla, and Jean Gilles Jean Mary of leading a smuggling ring that armed many of the country’s criminal street gangs that control the slums of Port-au-Prince.

On 14 July 2022 customs inspectors examined a container destined for the diocese. Instead of the “relief supplies” listed on the manifest, inspectors found weapons, ammunition, and counterfeit currency.  An investigation by the PNH found church leaders were using the diocese’s name  and corporate identity to smuggle weapons. 

The report stated containers bound for the church marked as relief supplies were cleared by customs in Port-au-Prince or in Gonâve then transported to a church school in the capital. While children were educated in classrooms in the front of the building, gangs would pick up their weapons from the school’s warehouse in the back.

The diocesan chief executive officer, Shikumbuzo Vundla was allegedly paid $30,000 a month for facilitating the smuggling, while Fr. Cole is alleged to have hidden over a million US dollars in bank accounts in the Caribbean representing his share of the proceeds, the PHN said. Twelve people, including a custom’s inspector, have so far been arrested by police.

A parallel investigation by the Haitain Department of Justice, also found Fr. Cole – who at the time of his arrest last August was diocesan executive secretary and priest in charge of the parish of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Bolosse – defrauded the government by receiving an illegal stipend authorized by the Haitain parliament of $1800 a month.

Jean Péguy, an attorney for the Episcopal Diocese denied any involvement by the church in the affair. Bad actors at the top of the church’s leadership were using the name of the diocese to do their “dirty work”, he said, adding he hoped the police would identify all those involved in the affair and clear the church’s name.