The criminal investigation into the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse took a surreal turn Tuesday when Port-au-Prince’s top prosecutor asked the investigative judge to charge Prime Minister Ariel Henry in connection with the July 7 slaying.
Chief Prosecutor Bedford Claude made the request in a two-page order to Judge Garry Orelien. He asked the judge to bar Henry from leaving the country.
There is just one problem. Claude had already been fired — by the prime minister — when he sent the request, according to a memo from the prime minister’s office.
In the letter dated Monday, Henry told Claude that he had been discharged for “serious administrative infractions.” That same day, Henry also fired Claude’s boss, Justice Minister Rockefeller Vincent, and a key adviser to the late president, Renald Luberice. Luberice was secretary general of the Council of Ministers, the equivalent of a Cabinet. Lubérice, Vincent and Claude have over the past week or so led a campaign by Moïse holdovers against Henry, even demanding his resignation.
Sonel Jean-Francois, a lawyer and former investigative judge, said there is no legal justification for what Claude attempted to do, including asking immigration to block Henry from leaving the country. A Haitian prosecutor must stand down once a case has been transferred over to an investigative judge, who is the only one authorized to launch any probe.
“He cannot pose any act, any investigation, as it relates to this,” Jean-Francois said. “It’s a (provision) in the criminal code that all jurists are aware of.”
Under Haitian law, Claude also cannot issue any mandates against a government minister without the authorization of a president, Jean-Francois said. “There is nothing legal about what he has done.”
Claude’s indictment request was dated Tuesday, the same day he had asked Henry to appear before him to answer questions about why a key suspect in the killing — Joseph Felix Badio, a former justice government official and functionary in the government’s anti-corruption unit as of May — twice called Henry’s cellphone hours after the president was killed.
The calls were noted in a police investigation that was transmitted to Claude weeks ago, along with other logs of calls involving some of the key suspects in the case.
Now a fugitive, Badio was in contact with some of the other suspects, as well as with other political personalities in the lead-up to Moïse’s assassination. However, it wasn’t until a human rights group, the National Human Rights Defense Network, mentioned the call between Badio and Henry, and Henry began making inroads toward a global political agreement with the political class that loyalists close to the deceased president, feeling threatened, began targeting the prime minister.
“There is a clear power struggle between Ariel Henry and the Jovenel loyalists, and that there is a deep division within (Moïse’s political party) PHTK,” said Robert Fatton, a Haitian political expert and professor at the University of Virginia.
The loyalists are also pushing for elections, which according to the recent agreement will take place at the end of 2022.
“The question is whether the loyalists are just doing their last thing to try and undermine Henry’s power. The fact they are still occupied the functions that they occupied last week indicates that even if Ariel Henry did fire them, they are not respecting their firings,” Fatton said. ”That is a serious problem: Who is in charge?”
Given Haiti’s ongoing challenges with armed gangs and recovery from last month’s deadly earthquake, Fatton said some semblance of political stability is badly needed and Henry has to find a way to deal with the current crisis or risk having his government fall.
“You have to contain it if you have nothing to fear from it,” Fatton said.
Two months after the Moïse assassination, the probe into his death has barely moved from where it was the first few days after the killing. Orelien was assigned the case after the first investigative judge resigned, citing safety concerns days after one of his court clerks was killed.
Some 44 suspects, including 18 Colombians and three Haitian Americans with ties to South Florida, have been arrested but authorities still have not said who allegedly financed the plot and why. They also have not identified the shooter, though they described Badio as “one of the brains” of the operation.
It is also not clear whether Henry and Badio actually spoke, though Claude claimed that their exchange on the morning of July 7 lasted seven minutes.
A respected neurosurgeon, Henry had been tapped by Moïse on July 5 to lead a new government, two days before his death. The surprise choice, while supported by some in the president’s entourage, was not welcomed by everyone. The night of Moïse’s killing, Henry was forced to relocate, according to sources, because his safety was not secured.
Moïse’s death provoked a three-way political battle that appears to be ongoing as various factions of Haitian society work either to hold onto power or to seize it. After initially calling for immediate elections, the United States has said conditions do not yet exist for elections to occur in Haiti and that it supports Haitian solutions to the country’s ongoing problems.
However, last week during a panel discussion at Florida International University, U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote warned that he didn’t believe that elections could take place in the near term, given Haiti’s ongoing security challenges and “without a political agreement.”
“We want to see an inclusive government. We want to see the Haitian people be able to choose who is going to run their country,” Foote said.
Henry is not the first politician to arouse suspicions in the investigation. Foreign Minister Claude Joseph, who took the reins of power immediately after the killing, was cited by name in the Colombian media, prompting him in July to publicly deny allegations that he was involved in the slaying.
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