Nearly a month after the midnight assassination of former Haiti President Jovenel Moïse, many of the details about the murder plot remain murky despite scores of arrests.
Since the July 7 murder, authorities in Haiti have taken into custody more than 40 people - including 18 former Colombian soldiers suspected of being part of a hit team that entered the former president’s private residence, where he was shot multiple times.
As the layers of the plot are gradually peeled back, a slate of additional players has emerged, including a former cocaine smuggler, the head of the president's security detail, former Haitian government officials, local police and influential businessmen.
Some connections among the disparate suspects point to South Florida, where Haitian officials have implicated a pastor, the owner of a small financial services company and the owner of a private security company.
But it's still unclear who was behind the killing or who fired the fatal shots, and investigators say the probe is being mishandled. Meanwhile, Haiti's top gang leader is placing himself in a position to benefit from the mayhem.
The investigation into the high-profile assassination of Haiti’s former head of state has “repeatedly veered from established protocol” due to death threats and difficulties accessing key crime scenes, evidence and witnesses, according to a CNN investigation based on leaked Justice Ministry documents.
The first official to document the crime scene at Moïse’s home, Haitian justice of the peace Henry Destin, said he went into hiding after receiving death threats. Other sources told CNN the investigation has faced “confusing lapses in protocol” that led to the “omission of key pieces of information” from official reports.
Several other officials have since penned an open letter on behalf of the National Association of Haitian Clerks (L’Association Nationale des Greffiers Haïtiens - ANAGH) that urges authorities to put protections in place so they can “carry out their task in peace.”
Little to nothing has been done to investigate the threats, though the intimidating messages “suggest insider knowledge of investigators' movements,” according to the leaked documents.
"Hey clerk, get ready for a bullet in your head, they gave you an order and you keep on doing shit," read one of the texts to the local clerks.
Haiti’s justice system has long fallen short in prosecuting high-level criminals, including those behind several massacres that took place while Moïse was in office. The Haitian government has allowed perpetrators to “act with near complete impunity,” according to a report from Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the Haitian Observatory of Crimes Against Humanity (Observatoire Haïtien des Crimes contre l’humanité - OHCCH).
In Death, G9 Alliance Sees Opportunity
Dressed head to toe in white alongside a portrait of Moïse, gang leader Jimmy Chérizier, alias "Barbecue,” joined hundreds of people in a July 26 march down the streets of the Lower Delmas district of the capital Port-au-Prince to honor the former head of state. The leader of a powerful gang alliance known as the G9 and Family, Chérizier appears poised to take advantage of the power vacuum in Haiti.
The outward show of support for Moïse is a quick reversal for Chérizier. In late June, flanked by dozens of heavily armed masked men, he was calling for his allies to take up arms and prepare for a “major revolution” against Moïse’s right-wing Tèt Kale Party (Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale - PHTK), as well as the business sector and opposition. Before this, Chérizier and his federation of nine allied gangs had reportedly enjoyed government support -- not unlike similar arrangements political leaders have brokered with armed gangs in years past.
In the lead-up to Moïse’s slaying, gang violence had paralyzed Port-au-Prince, driven in part by warfare among G9 Alliance members. The fighting displaced some 8,500 people -- many of them women and children -- during a two-week stretch in early June, according to reports from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
In an early July report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that “escalating violence continues on an almost daily basis and is expected to last for some time.” At a press conference the month of the president’s killing, the Associated Press quoted Chérizier as saying he and his allies were “ready for war.”
The former police officer turned gang boss may be using the chaos left behind by Moïse's assassination as cover to increase his power.
“The gang in this country is not those men with guns you can see here,” he told Vice News. “The real gangs are the men in suits. The real gangs are the officials in the national palace, the real gangs are the members of the opposition.”
US Links to Murder Plot
Two Haitian-American citizens were among the first people arrested in connection to the murder plot, and both had allegedly served as translators for the attackers. Haitian National Police Chief Léon Charles later implicated Venezuelan businessman Antonio Intriago, who owns a security company in South Florida known as CTU and allegedly hired the Colombian soldiers.
At the end of July, the Miami Herald reported that officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) executed the first US search warrants in the case. The operations targeted Intriago and another Florida resident, Walter Veintemilla, the head of Worldwide Capital Lending Group, on suspicions they may have “funded and trained” the Colombian mercenaries. Authorities were specifically searching for a possible paper trail, such as financial records, to shed light on the potential logistical preparations for the attack.
Despite the allegations by Haiti's police chief, US agents have found “no indication so far that the South Florida businessmen had any involvement in the president’s death,” according to the Miami Herald.
Veintemilla's lawyer told news outlets that his client had nothing to do with "the assassination." He brokered a loan to fund what he believed to be a plan to replace Haiti’s president with an interim leader in a peaceful transition of power, the lawyer said. Intriago has not responded to interview requests.
Authorities in Haiti have also accused 63-year-old pastor and doctor Christian Emmanuel Sanon of being involved in the plot. Sanon, a longtime US resident, was arrested in Haiti. Police Chief Charles said in mid-July that Moïse’s murder was the final act of a complex plan by Sanon to fulfill his own political ambitions and “take over as President of the Republic."
Records obtained by the Washington Post detailed how Sanon allegedly used the two Florida businessmen targeted by the search warrants to “recruit and assemble a private security force to protect [him] until he became Haiti’s president,” at which point he would “repay them for their services using the country’s assets.”
Senior members of Moïse’s security detail have also been arrested. The head of security has come under scrutiny amid questions of how the team of assassins was able to gain access to Moïse’s residency.
The Colombian soldiers arrested after the killing say they didn't shoot President Moïse and were fooled into believing they were on a security mission. Expertly trained and battle-hardened by decades of internal armed conflict against leftist guerrillas, former Colombian soldiers have popped up all over the world -- including as hired guns for landowners in Honduras and as private military contractors in the Middle East, among other examples.
A Pentagon spokesperson told the Washington Post that a “small number of the Colombian individuals detained as part of this investigation had participated in past US military training and education programs, while serving as active members of the Colombian Military.”