Haiti prosecutor says evidence links prime minister to president’s killing
By Maria Abi Habib and Anatoly Kurmanaev
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Haiti’s chief prosecutor said on Tuesday (14) that there was evidence linking the acting prime minister to the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, and prohibited him from leaving the country until he answers questions about it.
Last week, the prosecutor issued a police summons for the prime minister, Ariel Henry, requesting that he testify about contact he had with one of the chief suspects in the killing. Phone records show that Henry spoke with the suspect — Joseph Badio, a former intelligence official — in the hours after Moïse was killed in July in his home in Port-au-Prince, the capital.
Henry, who swiftly removed the prosecutor from his post, is by far the most prominent figure to be swept up in a murder investigation that has resulted in the arrest of more than 40 people but has shed little light onto who ordered and paid for the president’s killing — and why.
The detained include Moïse’s security officers, businessmen, three Haitian Americans and 18 Colombian mercenaries accused of leading the assault on Moïse’s residence. And the police have issued at least a dozen more arrest warrants, including one for Badio, whom Haitian authorities accuse of arming and directing the Colombian mercenaries on the night of the attack.
But as leads grow cold and key suspects vanish, the investigation appears to be descending into a political power struggle. Competing factions of the country’s elite are using Moïse’s death to attack opponents, leading many Haitians to fear that they will never see justice done for a crime that has left the nation adrift.
“They are fighting for power, and Ariel’s enemies are using the judicial system against him,” said Pierre Espérance, a Haitian human rights activist who is independently investigating Moïse’s killing. “What happened in the country today is something we have never seen before.”
The prime minister’s office called the travel ban illegal and “political theatre”, and said it had not been directly informed about the move by the prosecutor, Bed-Ford Claude. Calls for comment to Henry’s cellphone were not immediately answered.
Whether the prosecutor, Claude, has the authority to lead the investigation and to demand Henry’s questioning or charge him in the assassination is doubtful. On Monday (13), Henry dismissed Claude from office, according to the prime minister’s office. And, in any case, the prosecutor no longer has authority over the investigation, which is now in the hands of a judge.
Haitian law forbids judicial officials to prosecute senior civil servants without the authorization of the country’s leader — who at the moment is Henry.
In the midst of Tuesday’s tumult, the chief of the senate, Joseph Lambert, made a play to become Haiti’s next president. Lambert, who tried to claim the presidency in the days after Moïse’s assassination, attempted once more to claim the nation’s top post on Tuesday evening.
The senator’s office called local media to Parliament to live broadcast his swearing-in, but before he could do so, a gunfight broke out, preventing Lambert from entering the building, according to Western diplomats and Haitian officials.
Once the international community, led by the US government, became aware of Lambert’s plans, they presented a united front and warned the senator against taking over the presidency without broader national consent, according to a diplomat in Port-au-Prince.
The move against Henry came a day after Moïse’s widow, Martine Moïse, was called by the judge in charge of the case to appear for questioning on Sept. 20. Martine Moïse was in the bedroom with her husband when he was killed, and was also seriously injured in the attack. She has since announced her candidacy in coming presidential elections.
Since the assassination, Haiti has been struck by two natural disasters — an earthquake and a heavy storm. The first killed nearly 2,000 people, and the second caused landslides and flooding, further displacing the population and delaying the country’s recovery. Together, they added to the overlapping political crises that are burdening Haiti.
Henry, a neurosurgeon who was named prime minister by Moïse just days before the killing, has struggled to assert his authority over the country since being sworn into office in July. In previous remarks, Henry has denied any connection to the assassination and said that the masterminds of the plot remained at large.
The police are investigating a complex plot that they say stretches across several countries and revolves around a little-known doctor and pastor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, who was born in Haiti and lives in Florida. Officials say he conspired to kill the president and seize power.
But none of the detained suspects appear to have had the means to finance the plot — or the ability to take power after the president’s death.
The investigation, which has been mired in irregularities and tampering since it began, has provided Haitians with few answers and has undermined what little trust many had in the country’s corrupt and dysfunctional legal system.
Several judicial officials who collected initial evidence in the case have gone into hiding after saying they received death threats. One court clerk involved in the investigation died in unclear circumstances and the original judge assigned to the case recused himself, citing personal reasons.
Some of the detained Colombian soldiers have claimed their confessions were extracted under torture, and investigators from the United States and Colombia who arrived in Haiti to assist with the case said they were sidelined by Haitian authorities.
The combination of these setbacks have paralyzed the investigation, legal experts in Haiti said, and left it open to manipulation by politicians seeking to gain from Moïse’s killing.
Since the assassination, a political rift between Moïse and his predecessor, Michel Martelly, which began in the later years of Moïse’s presidency, has continued to fester and to threaten the country’s fragile political balance.
Haiti’s Cabinet is now split between allies of Moïse and those of Martelly, who is the expected front-runner in the next presidential election.
The two men were once allies. Martelly tapped Moïse to succeed him as president in 2015, plucking him from political obscurity. But officials close to Moïse said the relationship had grown increasingly tense, with Martelly angry at Moïse for not openly endorsing him for the next elections.
In the weeks before the president’s death, Martelly pressured Moïse to shake up his Cabinet, appointing new ministers and Henry as prime minister, according to an international diplomat and officials close to the deceased president.
But Moïse insisted on keeping several officials in key positions, including the justice and finance ministers and the state prosecutor. They are now trying to push forward the murder investigation, said government officials who were close to Moïse.
Martelly’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Amid the political disarray and violence in the country, the national elections that were planned for this year are likely to be delayed until next year, diplomats said.
The chaotic nature of the investigation has also deepened the disillusionment of many Haitians who were already struggling to make ends meet and left them distraught about the future of their country.
“It’s very difficult to find justice in Haiti,” said Raphael Jean Gilles, a street vendor, before listing off the names of senior Haitian politicians who were assassinated, their deaths unsolved decades later. “The people who killed Moïse are those that still hold power. It will continue like this, nothing will change.”
-New York Times