Haitian police have arrested a Florida-based doctor in connection with the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse, which they now say was part of a plot to install the physician as the country’s head of state.
Authorities have also summoned several of Haiti’s top business magnates and opposition politicians for questioning as they seek the masterminds and financiers of last week’s attack.
There are mounting doubts in the country over the official narrative of events, which maintains that 28 mercenaries invaded Mr. Moïse’s home without any apparent resistance from his bodyguards.
Léon Charles, chief of Haiti’s National Police, announced the arrest of Christian Emmanuel Sanon at a Sunday evening press conference. He said Mr. Sanon, a 63-year-old Haitian who has lived in Florida for the last two decades, is a medical doctor.
“He arrived by private plane in June with political objectives,” Mr. Charles said, standing outside Prime Minister Claude Joseph’s residence in Port-au-Prince.
Mr. Sanon hired the mercenaries — 26 Colombians and two Haitian-Americans — through a security company called CTU, Mr. Charles said. At first, he told them they were to provide him with protection. Then, he assigned them to take out Mr. Moïse so Mr. Sanon could seize the presidency.
Corporate records in Florida show Mr. Sanon had registered more than 20 companies, dealing in everything from medicine to real estate to natural gas.
Police have said Mr. Moïse was shot 12 times in his bedroom by the hit squad at 1 a.m. last Wednesday. His wife, Martine, was wounded but survived. Officers have arrested at least 20 of the accused gunmen and killed several others.
Mr. Charles indicated Sunday that Mr. Sanon is not believed to be lone ringleader of the plot.
Court documents, obtained by The Globe and Mail, summon businessmen Jean Marie Vorbe, Dimitri Vorbe and Réginald Boulos, and former senators Steven Benoît and Youri Latortue to provide evidence in the investigation. The summonses, signed by prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude, tell the men to appear Monday at a Port-au-Prince court.
The Vorbes own an electricity company named Sogener, whose contracts were cancelled and power plants nationalized by Mr. Moïse’s administration. Mr. Latortue is a former head of Haiti’s senate and political opponent of the late president.
Mr. Boulos’s business interests include grocery stores and car dealerships. He has hired three U.S. lobbyists over the past two years to rally American opposition to Mr. Moïse. The hirings were disclosed in filings that American citizens who represent foreign interests must make with the U.S. federal government. A letter sent on Mr. Boulos’s behalf to members of Congress in January, 2020 accused Mr. Moïse of ushering in “a new era of dictatorship.”
His most recent hire, Washington lobbyist Art Estopinan, was made just last week. In his filings, Mr. Estopinan said Mr. Boulos was considering running for president of Haiti.
Mr. Benoît has openly accused Mr. Moïse’s security detail of killing him. “The President was assassinated by his own guards, not by the Colombians,” he said on Magik9 radio station last week.
A number of Haitian political, business and academic figures who spoke with The Globe this weekend said Mr. Moïse had made numerous enemies during his time in office.
These people, most of whom wished to remain anonymous, said the late president feuded with corporate conglomerates whose government contracts he threatened, and rivals in his own political party over planned elections later this year. Some pointed to drug traffickers as having been potentially involved in the killing. The Globe and Mail is not revealing the identities of these sources because they say they fear reprisals.
Mr. Moïse also faced repeated accusations of autocracy. After cancelling parliamentary elections in 2019, he ruled by decree, created an intelligence agency reporting directly to him and proposed constitutional amendments to increase the presidency’s power.
The people that The Globe spoke with raised questions about the story of the attack that has emerged so far. They were particularly incredulous that the gunmen were skilled enough to get into the president’s house without shooting his bodyguards but apparently had no plan of escape. Mercenaries tried to hide in the Taiwanese embassy and behind bushes near the home, where they were surrounded and arrested by police.
“Nobody knows exactly what happened, but it looks like an inside job. How could they so easily access the former president’s bedroom? He was the most guarded human being in Haiti,” said Chantal Merzier Elie, a women’s rights activist who served as a foreign-policy adviser to several former Haitian leaders. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Mr. Claude, the Port-au-Prince prosecutor, told Le Nouvelliste newspaper that he planned to question Dimitri Hérard and Jean Laguel Civil, two police commanders responsible for Mr. Moïse’s security arrangements.
Colombian newspapers reported that the men arrested in Haiti had actually been in the country legally, working for Mr. Moïse. They said security footage showed them arriving at Mr. Moïse’s house around 2:30 a.m., after the time of the killing. Such reports have fuelled a range of theories among Haitians that cast the Colombians as fall guys for whoever actually killed the president.
Adding to the confusion, a voice message purportedly from Martine Moïse, who is recuperating in a Miami hospital, was posted to her Twitter account over the weekend. The recording cryptically accuses unnamed people of ordering the murder “because of roads, water, electricity” and references the planned election. It is not clear whether the message is genuine. One source who knew Ms. Moïse told The Globe that it did not sound like her.
Despite the tumult of Mr. Moïse’s rule, which included street clashes between protesters, police and the military, everyone who spoke with The Globe expressed shock at the escalation of political violence that his assassination represents.
“Haitians are saying ‘we’re looking bad in the eyes of the world – what kind of country is this where the president can be killed in his own bedroom with his wife?’ ” said Ms. Elie, who expressed hope that all political parties can come together to sort out a way forward. “We need to get our act together and put our differences aside.”
Many also painted a more nuanced picture of the late president than the one of universal unpopularity often projected internationally.
Georges Michel, a Haitian historian who knew Mr. Moïse, credited him with building roads, bridges and dams across the countryside. And he gave him high marks for trying, before politics, to develop the country’s economy by reclaiming its long-lost role as a banana exporter.
But Dr. Michel decried Mr. Moïse’s authoritarian inclinations. And he said the late president hurt his own cause by refusing to back down on controversial measures such as amending the constitution.
“He was a hard worker, a businessman, a patriot, a man of progress with a vision for this country,” Dr. Michel said. “But these qualities were rendered moot by two major defects: his tendency to be a dictator, and his stubbornness.”
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