The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Head of Haitian presidential guard detained as hunt for masterminds behind assassination continues

A memorial to assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. (Orlando Barria/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The head of security at Haiti’s presidential palace has been taken into custody, officials here said Thursday, as the investigation continued into the assassination last week of President Jovenel Moïse.

Haitian Police Director General Léon Charles confirmed that presidential security chief Dimitri Hérard has also been removed from his position. It was unclear, however, whether Hérard was facing any charges in relation to the killing or if his removal was permanent.

Hérard has been the target of growing anger from Haitians who demanded to know how a team of alleged assassins appeared to easily infiltrate Moïse’s residence early on the morning of July 7.

Bed-Ford Claude, a Haitian prosecutor, told The Washington Post that the country’s justice system “wants [Hérard] to answer questions.”

Mystery surrounds suspected mastermind of Haiti presidential assassination plot

President Biden said Thursday that he had mobilized Marines to bolster security at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince but ended consideration that other military personnel would be sent. Haitian officials had requested help to secure infrastructure.

“The idea of sending American forces to Haiti is not on the agenda,” he said.

More than a week after Moïse’s assassination, many questions remain unanswered. Police have arrested more than 20 people in the killing, including a Haitian man with long-standing ties to Florida, two Haitian Americans and several former Colombian soldiers.

In a radio interview Thursday, Colombian President Iván Duque said some of the former soldiers appeared genuinely to believe they were in Haiti to serve as bodyguards.

But among the soldiers was a “smaller group” that “apparently had detailed knowledge of what was to be a criminal operation,” Duque told La FM radio.

Separately, the Pentagon confirmed Thursday that some of the former Colombian soldiers had previously received U.S. military training, raising more questions about U.S. links to the plot.

“A review of our training databases indicates that a small number of the Colombian individuals detained as part of this investigation had participated in past U.S. military training and education programs, while serving as active members of the Colombian Military Forces,” Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement to The Post.

U.S. military once trained Colombians implicated in Haiti assassination plot, Pentagon says

Haitian officials have rejected allegations that current government officials were involved in the assassination. Charles flatly denied a Colombian news report that suggested interim prime minister Claude Joseph was behind the plot.

The story was “a lie,” Charles told reporters. He said Haitian police were aware of “propaganda creating a diversion.”

However, many of those under suspicion are current or former law enforcement officials in Haiti.

Police said late Wednesday that two new suspects including a former top police officer had been detained. Four high-ranking members of the president’s security detail are being held in isolation as authorities continue to track down other fugitives, Charles told reporters.

It wasn’t clear whether Hérard was among the four people whom Charles referenced. A senior Haitian police official did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Hérard’s detention.

Officers searched the home of Gilbert Dragon, a former police superintendent and one of the two people whose arrest was announced Wednesday. They confiscated several cartridges, firearms and bulletproof vests, police said in a statement.

Pierre Espérance, head of a human rights group that has studied the country’s security forces, said Dragon is close to Hérard. Dragon is also an associate of Guy Philippe.

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse assassinated at his home by unidentified gunmen

Philippe, also a former Haitian police officer, led the 2004 uprising that drove then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of Haiti. In 2017, he was sentenced to nine years in federal prison in the United States for conspiracy to launder drug money.

Philippe admitted to accepting between $1.5 million and $3.5 million in cocaine profits from Colombian traffickers in return for allowing them to use Haiti as a transit point for shipping cocaine to the United States between 1999 and 2003, the Justice Department said in 2017.

By pleading guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money, he avoided drug-trafficking charges that could have resulted in a life sentence.

The other suspect named by police Wednesday, a Haitian man identified as Reynaldo Corvington, is accused of providing the suspects with housing and giving them sirens to use on top of their cars. He is alleged to have worked with James Solages, a U.S. citizen who was detained last week, according to the Associated Press.

The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Colombian government are assisting with the investigation.

Colombian officials say at least 18 Colombian nationals, many of them former soldiers, have been arrested and remain detained in Haiti on suspicion of involvement in the assassination. Three people of Haitian ancestry have been arrested and at least three suspects have been killed.

Haiti and Cuba upheaval could mean twin migration crises

Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a 63-year-old Haitian man with long-standing ties to Florida, whom police say was aiming to assume the country’s presidency, remains a key suspect. Police allege that Sanon, whose arrest was announced Sunday, recruited some of the assailants through a Venezuelan security firm based in the United States by telling them they would be his bodyguards.

An American humanitarian worker who says he lived for three months in Sanon’s palatial Port-au-Prince home after a devastating earthquake in 2010 described him as a “strange person.”

Ryan Jackson, a physician who was working for a Miami-based nonprofit organization that partnered with Sanon’s foundation to deliver earthquake relief, said the Haitian offered him a job in return for Jackson’s help publicizing his activities.

“Having an American doctor on staff was like a feather in his cap,” Jackson told The Post. “I refused. I did not like him.”

Sanon could not be reached for comment. It wasn’t clear whether he has retained an attorney.

A number of suspects in Moïse’s killing remain on the run. They include John Joël Joseph, a Haitian political rival to Moïse’s party, whom police have reportedly accused of providing weapons used in the attack.

Police are also seeking Rodolphe Jaar, who was indicted in 2013 in a U.S. federal court on charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela through Haiti to the United States, according to the AP.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has seen deepening unrest since the assassination of Moïse. The country was the only nation in the Americas with no doses of a coronavirus vaccine until Wednesday, when 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by the United States arrived in Port-au-Prince.

A White House official said additional doses would soon be sent to the country.

Pannett reported from Sydney. Horton and Taylor reported from Washington. Emily Rauhala contributed to this report.

Read more:

Police say suspect in killing of Haiti’s Moïse planned to assume presidency

In Haiti, rivals claw for power as crisis escalates after assassination

Post Reports: America’s collective amnesia in Haiti