Absent guards, sight-seeing killers and an obscure mastermind: Haiti probe yields more questions than answers

Investigators are wondering why President Jovenel Moïse’s security team was unharmed while he was being tortured and murdered by a group of armed men

Jovenel Moise assassination
A police officer near a sign depicting Jovenel Möise outside his official residence in Port-au-Prince on Sunday.RICARDO ARDUENGO (Reuters)

A criminal mastermind who nobody knows, a presidential security team that survived an attack by nearly 30 armed men without a scratch, Colombian hitmen who shared photos of themselves in tourist destinations on social media just days before their operation and alleged links to opposition groups in Venezuela. There are far more inconsistencies than certainties when it comes to the murder of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, who was tortured and shot dead in his home in Port-au-Prince on July 7. These are some of the questions that remain unanswered.

Who organized the assassination of Jovenel Moïse?

Authorities in Haiti announced the arrest of Christian Emmanuel Sanon as one of the masterminds behind the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. It is believed the 63-year-old doctor, who was born in Haiti but had lived in Florida in the United States for more than 20 years, was the person the Colombian hitmen contacted when they felt the authorities closing in on them. Although Haitian authorities claim that Sanon wanted to be president, he is a total unknown in both Haiti and the powerful emigrant community. Three Haitian politicians who spoke to EL PAÍS had no idea who Sanon was and said that it would have been impossible for him to organize the assassination without collaborating with higher-level figures.

In a video shared on YouTube in 2011, called “Leadership for Haiti,” Sanon describes the leaders of the country as corrupt and accuses them of robbing the nation of its resources, arguing “they don’t care about the people.” In the video, he proposes himself as president and argues that the Caribbean country has natural resources, such as uranium and oil, that have been stolen by the political class. But his Twitter account has been inactive since 2011 and at the moment of his arrest, he only had 67 followers. He was not following any accounts.

Did the Colombian ex-soldiers arrested in Haiti know what the mission was?

The role of the alleged Colombian mercenaries remains unclear. Of the 21 ex-soldiers accused of the murder, 18 have been arrested while three were killed during their capture. The Colombian police force said on Monday that it respected the autonomy of Haiti and was not able to offer any hypothesis about the crime. In the middle of the intrigue, several analysts have wondered why the former soldiers posted photos of themselves in popular tourists spot in the neighboring Dominican Republic if they knew they were going to be participating in an assassination plot. Questions have also been raised about why not a single member of the presidential guard was injured in the attack. The arrested ex-soldiers are asking for legal assistance and to contact their families, while the relatives of those who were killed are asking for the bodies of their loved ones to be returned.

On Monday, following a meeting with Haiti’s ambassador in Bogotá, Colombia’s vice chancellor for foreign affairs, Francisco Echeverry, said that he had asked to have access to the detainees and expressed his concern over their security. “We expressly asked the ambassador that his government apply the necessary measures to guarantee the physical safety of our countrymen,” he said, adding that the family members of the alleged mercenaries insist they “are respectable people.”

A Miami-based company and the role of the Venezuelan Antonio Intriago

One part of the transnational investigation into the murder is focused on the companies that acted as intermediaries to recruit and transfer the former soldiers. Authorities in Colombia have identified five companies, but have put the spotlight on CTU Security LLC (Counter Terrorist Unit Federal Academy), which is headquartered in Florida. This business used a credit card registered in the US to buy 19 plane tickets from Bogotá in Colombia to the Dominican Republic – flights that many of the 21 ex-soldiers were on before they crossed into Haiti.

“We have been able to establish communication links between Germán Rivera García and Duberney Capador [two of the ex-soldiers who were killed] and the business CTU Security based in Miami,” said Jorge Luis Vargas, the head of the Colombian police. And this is where another jigsaw piece comes into the picture: Antonio Intriago, a Venezuelan national who is one of the heads of CTU Security. Last weekend, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said Intriago was linked to opposition groups in Venezuela and claimed – without proof – that the businessman was “a personal friend of Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López,” who are both high-profile opposition leaders in Venezuela.

Was the murder a kidnapping attempt gone wrong?

When Judge Carl Henry Destin, who is leading the murder investigation, arrived at the scene of the crime, he found the president out of bed, dressed in pants and with multiple broken bones. Everything indicated that Moïse had been brutally beaten with something like a machete or a baseball bat.

If he was killed while he was sleeping, the question is why was he wearing jeans, as is seen in the morgue photos seen by this newspaper. He may have tried to defend himself or perhaps it was a case of an attempted kidnapping that went wrong, as some of the detainees have claimed. Two US-born Haitians who are implicated in the murder said that the original idea was to kidnap the president and take him to the National Palace, and that they never thought he would be killed.

What role did the presidential security play? And who is Dimitri Hérard?

Police are also investigating what role Dimitri Hérard, the head of security at the National Place, played in the assassination plot. Before the murder, Hérard was already under investigation for suspected arms trafficking. Now he will have to testify in court alongside Jean Laguel Civil, the head of the president’s security detail. Both are suspected of allowing the president to be tortured and killed without anyone on their team being injured. They will have to explain how the commandos were able to enter the president’s home without shots being fired, even though the outside was riddled with shells.

Colombia is also on the tail of Hérard, as he stopped over in the country on his trips to Ecuador, Panama and the Dominican Republic. The first trip was on January 19 and the last on May 29, according to the police. “But he was not only in transit, he spent two days in Colombia. We are verifying what activities he did there,” said Vargas.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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