By Widlore Mérancourt, Amanda Coletta, Claire Parker & Samantha Schmidt, The Washington Post, April 8, 2022
There are multiple theories for why Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was shot to death at his home in July. Dozens of people have been detained. Others have been named as suspects and declared fugitives. The interim prime minister has fallen under suspicion.
But nine months after the brazen assassination, Haiti’s investigation into the crime has stalled. Prosecutors have yet to charge anyone. The motive remains a mystery. Officials have appointed a new judge — the fourth — to oversee the probe. But more than a month after the appointment, Judge Merlan Belabre has yet to receive the files in the case.
“I have the will to investigate,” Belabre told The Washington Post last month. “But I don’t know what’s happening.” His mandate ends April 25.
U.S. efforts to unravel the killing, meanwhile, are advancing. Federal prosecutors, who allege that part of the crime was planned in the United States, charged two suspects in January and are seeking the extradition of a third. FBI agents met in February with two Haitian Americans detained by Haiti, according to a person familiar with the Haitian investigation. And President Biden signed legislation in March that requires the State Department to report what it knows to Congress.
A State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. government supports a “thorough, independent investigation” into the assassination and is assisting Haitian authorities. The FBI declined to comment.
Some in Haiti are welcoming the U.S. effort to find answers that have so far proved elusive.
Pierre Espérance, director of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network, a civil society group, “was so happy” when he learned that one suspect had been charged by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida. “We knew in Haiti that the investigation was blocked,” he said — stymied by corruption and a lack of political will.
Aîné Martin, president of a group that represents Haiti’s law clerks, said the United States should play a role, given the U.S. ties of some of the suspects. But he said Haiti has a duty to uncover the truth behind the assassination of its president on its soil.
“I think the justice system should do its job,” Martin said.
But Belabre might have more immediate concerns. He told The Post this week that no measures have been taken to ensure his safety. He has accused the Haitian government of abandoning him and his family “to assassins and kidnappers.”
Men with high-caliber weapons and grenade-launching drones stormed Moïse’s home shortly after midnight on July 7. Gunmen shot the 53-year-old president to death, mutilated his body and wounded his wife.
A gate bars entry to Moïse's home. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)
Haitian police and family members of suspects allege that several dozen former Colombian soldiers were hired as contractors by a Florida-based firm, CTU Security, to travel to Haiti. At least some believed they would be serving as bodyguards, family members say. U.S. authorities allege that some believed they were being recruited to execute a purported arrest warrant for Moïse.
Lawyers for the owner of CTU Security did not respond to a request for comment. They told The Post last year that he believed his company was providing security for a humanitarian project in Haiti led by Christian Sanon, a Haitian American and self-described pastor in Florida who aspired to serve as Haiti’s president.
Sanon is now detained in Haiti. The Post could not identify an attorney for him. Sanon told investigators that he made contact with CTU Security to ensure his safety, according to a Haitian police dossier obtained by The Post. He “rejected out of hand” any involvement in the assassination, investigators wrote in the dossier.
Enter the United States. U.S. authorities in January arrested Rodolphe Jaar, a dual Haitian-Chilean citizen, and charged him with conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States and providing material support, knowing that it would be used to prepare for or carry out a kidnapping or murder.
Federal prosecutors say he agreed to fly to the United States after his arrest in the Dominican Republic. They say in a criminal complaint that Jaar, who is a former Drug Enforcement Administration informant, admitted in an interview to providing firearms, ammunition and housing to the Colombians carrying out the assassination and to attempting to help suspects hide.
Jaar “stated that the operation changed from an arrest operation to an assassination operation after the initial plan to ‘capture’ the Haitian president at the airport and take him away by plane did not go forward,” FBI Special Agent Jacqueline Valdes wrote in an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint.
Jaar remains in U.S. custody. A lawyer for Jaar did not respond to requests for comment.
Earlier in January, U.S. authorities arrested Mario Antonio Palacios, a former Colombian soldier who had fled to Jamaica and was being held there. Prosecutors say Palacios also agreed to be transferred to the United States. They say he told U.S. authorities that he was hired to travel to Haiti to provide security and later to “extract” the Haitian president by plane. The plan did not go forward, he told them, and as early as July 6, co-conspirators informed him that the goal was to assassinate the president. He faces the same charges as Jaar.
The Haitian National Police say Palacios was part of a five-man group called the Delta Team that was tasked with entering Moïse’s bedroom during the attack, according to the police dossier.
Palacios on Monday pleaded not guilty in federal court in the Southern District of Florida.
“We’re going to look at all the evidence and fight the case,” his attorney, Miami lawyer Alfredo Izaguirre, told The Post.
Lawyers for Antonio Intriago, the owner of CTU Security, did not respond to questions about whether the firm had records of hiring Jaar or Palacios. They said last year that one of Intriago’s business associates had retained retired Colombian soldiers to provide security for Sanon. The lawyers said Intriago believed the retired soldiers were unarmed and awaiting firearm permits from Haitian police when the mission changed to accompanying police to execute an arrest warrant for Moïse.
“When they entered the presidential residence, they found the president deceased, his wife wounded and the house ransacked,” the lawyers said last year. CTU Security did not respond to a request for comment.
John Jöel Joseph, a former Haitian senator, was arrested in Jamaica in January. Haitian police say in the dossier that Joseph attended planning meetings and paid for rental cars used by the assassins. His lawyer said that the United States has sent a request for Joseph’s extradition and that Joseph has consented to waiving an extradition hearing.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
In February, FBI agents spoke with two detained Haitian Americans, Joseph Vincent and James Solages, according to a person familiar with the Haitian investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue. The FBI declined to comment. The Post could not identify lawyers for Vincent and Solages.
Interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry told the Miami Herald last month that he would be willing to turn over certain Haitian Americans, Colombians and others in custody to the United States.
Henry, tapped to be prime minister by Moïse days before his death, has said he will do “everything in my power” to bring justice. But Henry himself has been accused of involvement in the killing.
Last year, a top prosecutor sought charges against Henry, citing telephone conversations he allegedly had hours after the assassination with Joseph Felix Badio, a former Justice Ministry official named by the Haitian National Police as a key suspect. Badio remains a fugitive. Henry denied wrongdoing; he fired the prosecutor.
The Haitian probe has yet to identify a motive, organizers or financial backers. Police have detained more than 40 suspects, including several ex-Colombian commandos and members of Moïse’s security detail. None have been charged. Some say they’ve been tortured. Several people identified by Haitian authorities as suspects are on the lam.
Espérance’s National Human Rights Defense Network says investigators have been barred from accessing crucial state databases without explanation. Some judges and clerks in the investigation have been driven into hiding by death threats.
Jean-Junior Joseph, a spokesman for Henry, said that Espérance’s group lacks “credibility” and that his claims shouldn’t be trusted.
A spokesman for the Haitian National Police did not respond to a request for comment.
Former acting prime minister Claude Joseph said Henry is “against any approach aimed at doing justice to the murdered president.” In a joint statement with former justice minister Rockfeller Vincent and Bed-Ford Claude, the fired prosecutor, he said that Henry “will do everything to propel to power those who will protect him and protect the assassins.”
Henry’s office did not make him available to be interviewed. His spokesman called the statement “diversion politics” and “fake news” written by “suspects” or “witnesses” in the assassination.
“All in all, we are focusing on uniting Haitians, determined to give justice to Jovenel Moïse’s family and the Haitian people,” Joseph said. “We are aiming to have elections in a timely manner so the next Haitian president will be elected [legitimately] by real elections.”
Belabre, the judge now heading the probe, could pursue how the assailants managed to descend upon Moïse’s residence with little or no resistance from the president’s security detail.
Some reportedly traveled in vehicles with diplomatic license plates. Some allegedly wore fake DEA tags and shouted “DEA operation!” through a megaphone during the assault. No police officers or security guards were killed. Several police and palace security officials have been detained; others have been questioned.
As the assailants closed in, Moïse placed several calls for help, Haitian investigators say in the police dossier. Help was not immediately mobilized and was slow to arrive.
Detained officers offered a range of justifications for their alleged inaction, investigators say in the dossier. They said they were surprised by the attack, lacked ammunition or were overpowered by assailants who handcuffed them and threatened to kill them. Many denied any involvement with the plot or connection to the alleged assailants.
“What’s certain is that their lack of commitment, professionalism and their serious negligence in the face of this attack cost the life of the president,” investigators wrote. “Instead of responding to their mission … they chose not to engage but to withdraw quietly — leaving the president alone, abandoned and left to himself without the slightest recourse.”
Belabre, meanwhile, wants protection. “My family and I won’t go anywhere,” he said in a news release after his appointment. “If anything were to happen to me, my family or my collaborators, the state is responsible. One day the sun will rise in Haiti.”
As the months pass, ordinary Haitians are growing weary. Philicien Casimir, a 31-year-old videographer here, said he believes the truth will come out someway, somehow, eventually, but he lacks faith in the justice system.
It’s “rotten, and it’s not credible,” he said.
Posted April 14, 2022