US prosecutors leveled new charges against alleged assassins of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, raising questions about whether the murderers were seeking to replicate previous patterns of corruption by installing a puppet leader to funnel them state contracts.
Arcangel Pretel Ortiz, Antonio Intriago, Walter Veintemilla, and Frederick Bergmann were arrested on suspicion of their involvement in the July 2021 assassination of Moïse, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) reported in a February 14 press release. Their arrests mean 11 people now face charges in the US in connection with the murder.
Pretel Ortiz and Intriago are principals of Counter Terrorist Unit Federal Academy and Counter Terrorist Unit Security (CTU), a private security company in Miami. Veintemilla is a principal at Worldwide Capital Lending Group, a financing company in Florida.
The men intended to oust Moïse and replace him with Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a dual Haitian-American citizen with political aspirations in Haiti, prosecutors said. The plotters allegedly expected CTU to receive profitable contracts for infrastructure projects, security forces, and military equipment from Sanon in return. Sanon, also facing charges, was transferred in January from Haiti to US custody.
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Veintemilla allegedly agreed to support the coup financially, giving CTU a credit line and sending money for ammunition to co-conspirators in Haiti, the DOJ claimed. Like Pretel Ortiz and Intriago, he purportedly expected Worldwide to profit significantly from state contracts handed to the company by the Haitian government once Sanon was in power.
The fourth suspect, Bergmann, is a businessman from Florida. He stands accused of providing lodging and transporting weapons to mercenaries who carried out the assassination in Port-au-Prince.
The defendants originally planned to kidnap Moïse rather than kill him, but they pursued the assassination after a failed kidnapping attempt, the DOJ said.
InSight Crime Analysis
The theory that conspirators killed Moïse to access lucrative state contracts has a notable flaw: there was little money to steal by the time he was assassinated.
In the past, access to state contracts and political aid in Haiti has been rife with corruption, bribery, and criminal connections. Following Haiti's 2010 earthquake, some $13.5 billion in foreign aid reportedly arrived to the country within five years. Yet the development programs promised never occurred, according to Robert Faton, a Haiti expert and Professor at the University of Virginia.
“Significant money in terms of contracts was likely stolen,” Faton said.
A study published by the Center for Black Studies Research explored how billions of dollars of foreign aid were spent after the earthquake and found that NGOs and private contractors operated with little oversight, despite being the main channels through which money was disbursed.
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The misappropriation of funds has not been limited to foreign aid contracts. In 2019, Haiti's audit bureau discovered the misuse of $2 billion worth of government funds in relation to the PetroCaribe oil alliance with Venezuela. And in 2020, the Center for Human Rights Research and Analysis (Centre d’analyse et de recherche en droits de l’homme - CARDH) found that at least $34 million of aid money intended for Haiti's COVID-19 response was spent without proper oversight.
At the same time, it's also possible the president's murder stemmed from Moïse's campaign against business people and politicians suspected of being involved in Haiti's drug trade. Moïse was reportedly preparing to hand over a list of names to the United States when he was gunned down in his bedroom at home. His wife, Martine, who was with him at the time of the attack and was also shot, claimed that after shooting her husband the gunmen frantically searched through his files for a particular document, though she said she didn't know the document's contents.
Not all of the evidence on which prosecutors based these charges against the four new suspects has come to light. It's possible that doubts will be cleared up as more information is revealed. But for now the motives behind the murder remain murky.