The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Haiti, a clouded assassination probe prompts fears of political crackdowns

A bodyguard stands outside the office of the prosecutor that is investigating the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse inside the courthouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 14. (Matias Delacroix/AP)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Nearly a month after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, none of the dozens of detained suspects have been taken to court. Some of the judges and clerks involved in investigating the killing have gone into hiding, fearing for their lives and claiming they faced pressure to tamper with reports.

Now, with the plot and motives still murky, many Haitians have begun to believe the authorities are also using the investigation as cover to crack down on political foes of the administration trying to keep power after gunmen killed Moïse on July 7.

A prosecutor for Port-au-Prince has issued a series of arrest warrants against political opponents — high-profile evangelical pastors, a former justice minister and Moïse critics — who all say they had nothing to do with the assassination.

Steven Irvenson Benoit, a former senator and presidential candidate in Haiti, described the arrest warrants as “a war” against political enemies who could challenge the country’s interim leadership.

In an investigation mired in confusion and chaos, the arrest warrants point to shortcomings in Haiti’s justice system and raise questions about whether authorities will ever get to the bottom of the hit on Moïse. It also further complicates the role of U.S. officials and the FBI in an international case with alleged ties to U.S.-trained Colombian military officers and a company based in South Florida.

“The regime in power wants to stay in power, so they issued arrest warrants against those who can be a threat to them,” said Gérard Forges, a well-known pastor in Haiti and outspoken critic of Moïse who was the subject of one of this week’s arrest warrants.

He denied any involvement in the assassination. “What is going on,” he said, “is political persecution.”

Forty-four people are currently detained in Haiti in connection with the attack, including 18 retired Colombian military officers and several members of Moïse’s security detail. Haitian and Colombian authorities have said the Colombian ex-military officers were hired by a Florida-based security contracting firm, CTU Security, to travel to Haiti. Some of them were under the impression they would be serving as bodyguards, authorities said.

Haitian American held in assassination probe financed ‘personal security’ team, records show

On Wednesday, more twists and turns were added to the investigation maze.

Lawyers on behalf of the owner of CTU Security, Antonio Intriago, said their client was led to believe his company was providing security for a redevelopment and humanitarian project in Haiti led by Christian Sanon, a Haitian American and self-described pastor and physician now detained in Haiti in connection with the investigation. In return for providing security for the initiative, Haitian officials promised Intriago he would receive a cut from the profits eventually generated from the infrastructure projects, the lawyers’ statement said, echoing details from contract proposals obtained by The Washington Post last month.

The statement alleged that Intriago worked with a business associate by the name “Mr. Arcangel” who had a “working relationship” with the FBI. The lawyers claim “Mr. Arcangel” had received assurances from his FBI contacts that the security services were legitimate. These assertions could not be independently verified by The Post, and an FBI spokeswoman declined to comment regarding the alleged FBI connections. Records show that a man by the name of “Arcangel, Pretel O.” is a business associate of Intriago’s at a company called Counter Terrorist Unit Federal Academy, but it was not clear if the two are the same person.

Intriago did not provide any weapons to the security contractors in Haiti, the statement said, adding that Colombian retired soldiers were awaiting security and firearms permits from Haitian police at the time of the Moïse murder. But just before the killing of the president, Intriago learned there had been a change in the plans in Haiti, the lawyers said: The Colombian contractors were asked to accompany a Haitian judge and district attorney to execute an arrest warrant on Moïse.

The lawyers alleged the Colombians were told their role was to guard the officials while Haitian police carried out the arrest. “It is our belief that the president’s own body guards betrayed him,” the statement said.

The lawyers’ statement included a letter asking for Intriago’s security assistance, purportedly signed by the judge, Windelle Coq Thélot, and the district attorney, Gérald Norgaisse. But both the district attorney and a relative speaking on behalf of the judge said they never signed such a document. The lawyers who issued the statement did not respond to questions from The Post, nor did Intriago.

The conflicting accounts and unanswered questions cast even more doubt over an investigation that has been muddied from the start.

Shown the signed document, Gérald Norgaisse told The Post it was a fake. “It’s the first time I’m seeing this document in my life,” Norgaisse said. “Someone tried to imitate my signature.”

Norgaisse said he has been one of the Haiti prosecutors questioning suspects in the probe into the Moïse killing.

Marc-Antoine Maisonneuve, a lawyer for Coq Thélot, told The Post that his client denies any involvement in the assassination of the president. The judge’s brother, Edwin Coq, told The Post she did not sign the document provided by CTU Security and did not have the capacity to do so because she was preparing for the funeral of her father.

Coq Thélot, a former Supreme Court judge who was removed by Moïse in February amid an alleged attempted coup, is also the subject of an arrest warrant in Haiti in connection with the assassination, said Bed-Ford Claude, the Haitian prosecutor.

On Wednesday, Claude confirmed he had issued arrest warrants against five other people in connection to the investigation into the president’s killing: Liné Balthazar, the head of Moïse’s PHTK political party; Paul Denis, a former justice minister; Samir Handall, a well-known business owner; and Gérald Bataille and Gérard Forges, high-profile evangelical pastors and Moïse critics.

The arrest warrants of such prominent opponents of the current administration were swiftly condemned by politicians and human rights activists in Haiti.

“I think it’s simply intimidation,” said Benoit, the former presidential candidate, who was called in for questioning at the prosecutor’s office in the early days of the investigation. “They want to shut all of us down.”

Haiti’s evangelical leaders feel pressure after one of their own arrested in president’s killing

Reached by The Post, Claude declined to provide reasons or evidence backing up the arrest warrants. On Wednesday, he said, the case was forwarded from Claude’s office to the investigative judge’s office, as required by Haitian law.

Legal experts in Haiti questioned why the prosecutor did not simply invite these high-profile figures for questioning, as is standard protocol before an arrest warrant is issued. “I don’t have to invite them,” Claude said in response. “Nobody can tell me what to do.”

Jean Sénat Fleury, a longtime Haitian investigative judge who immigrated to the United States in 2007, criticized the fact that members of Moïse’s same political party are now tasked with probing his killing.

“It’s more politics than justice, what is going on in Haiti,” Sénat Fleury said. “The same people in charge cannot do the investigation.”

Brian Concannon, a board member and adviser for the Boston-based nonprofit Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said Moïse’s political party has systematically used the justice system to persecute, arrest and harass its political opponents.

These actions “have weakened the justice system’s ability to stand up against that kind of executive overreach,” Concannon said.

Haiti buries a president, but its long-term crisis lives on

In recent days, the judges and clerks investigating the assassination — those tasked with examining the bodies of Moïse and the suspects accused of killing him — have faced repeated threats against their safety, said Ainé Martin, president of the Haitian National Clerk Association. They are now in hiding, and Martin said he has asked the country’s justice minister to take measures to protect the safety of the judges, clerks and their families.

Martin said two clerks, Marcelin Valentin and Waky Philostene, have received anonymous phone calls asking them to tamper with their reports and to add the names of prominent Moïse critics, including Youri Latortue, a politician, and Reginald Boulos, a businessman. The two clerks refused, Martin said.

In an interview, Boulos said he has never met any of the people suspected of playing a role in the president’s assassination.

“It’s clear that this investigation now is being politicized by the people who have the capacity … the people in power,” Boulos said, “and that they are trying to focus the blame on people who have nothing to do with it.”

Schmidt reported from Bogotá and Boburg from Washington.

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