(LONDON) — More than two dozen people, mostly foreigners, have been accused of playing a role in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise last week. Now, authorities have arrested a Haitian-born Florida resident who they say acted as a middleman between the alleged assassins and the unnamed masterminds.
The man, identified as 63-year-old Christian Emmanuel Sanon, was accompanied by several of the suspected assailants when he allegedly flew to the Caribbean island nation on a private jet in early June, according to Leon Charles, head of the Haitian National Police. Sanon had hired the Colombian nationals through a Florida-based Venezuelan security firm to protect him and his business. But they later received a new mission: arrest the president of Haiti, according to Charles.
“The operation started from there,” the police chief said during a press conference Sunday, adding that several more men joined the group before they stormed Moise’s home in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, at around 1 a.m. local time on July 7.
The 53-year-old head of state was shot and killed while his wife, Martine Moise, was wounded. She has since been transferred to a Florida hospital for treatment and underwent surgery on Saturday, according to Haitian interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.
It’s unclear how the alleged assassins were able to gain access to the private presidential residence. Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. Bocchit Edmond told ABC News on Friday that the group proclaimed to be agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — something which the Haitian and U.S. governments have both denied. However, Edmond said it’s “obvious” that the group had “some internal help,” too. He described them as “international mercenaries.”
Charles said 26 Colombian nationals are suspected of having a hand in killing Moise. So far, 18 of them have been arrested along with two U.S. citizens and three Haitian nationals, including Sanon. Five Colombian nationals are still at large while three have been killed, according to Charles, who described them as “dangerous.”
While searching Sanon’s house in Haiti, authorities discovered a hat with the “DEA” logo, 20 boxes of bullets, various gun parts, four automobile license plates from the Dominican Republic, two cars and correspondence with unidentified individuals. Charles said Sanon came to the country with “political objectives.”
Public records show Sanon has lived in Florida. In a video posted to YouTube in 2011, Sanon identifies himself as a doctor and accuses Haiti’s leaders of corruption, saying that “they don’t care about the country, they don’t care about the people.”
“Nine million people can’t be in poverty when we have so much resources in the country,” Sanon said. “We can’t take it anymore. We need new leadership that will change the way of life.”
Authorities have identified the detained Americans as 35-year old James Solanges and 55-year-old Joseph Vincent.
Haitian Judge Clement Noel, who is close to the case, told ABC News on Friday that he has interviewed the two Americans. They claimed to be working as translators for the group and denied being mercenaries, according to Noel. Solages said he found the job on the internet and that they were supposed to arrest Moise rather than kill him, Noel told ABC News.
A website for Solanges’ charity describes the Florida resident as a “certified diplomatic agent” who previously worked as a bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. ABC News could not independently verify those claims.
The U.S. Department of State is “certainly aware of the arrest of the two U.S. citizens who are in Haiti and continue[s] to closely monitor the situation,” deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter said Friday, declining to comment further because of “privacy considerations.”
The Haitian government requested that the United States send troops in the wake of the president’s assassination to help stabilize the turbulent, impoverished country and secure its critical infrastructure, such as oil reserves and the international airport. Instead, the U.S. government agreed to send senior officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to assist with the probe, according to the White House.
Michel Dessources, a spokesperson for the Haitian prime minister’s office, told ABC News on Sunday that the U.S. officials have arrived in Haiti.
In an interview with ABC News on Friday, Haiti’s interim prime minister said Moise was tortured before he was killed and that authorities believe they “have the right people” in custody.
“Mercenaries came to the president’s house, they tortured him and they killed him,” Joseph told ABC News. “We staunchly believe that justice will be provided to the President Jovenel Moise.”
Haiti’s line of succession remains unclear. But Joseph, who has declared a “state of siege” and is currently in charge with help from the country’s military and the national police force, has indicated that he would only take control temporarily until a new president is elected. The international community has called on Haiti to go ahead with presidential and legislative elections slated for later this year.
Moise’s political opponents had argued that his five-year presidential term ended in February, while the late president said he had one more year left because the disputed 2016 election delayed his inauguration until 2017.
Moise had been governing by decree since January 2020, after the country failed to hold legislative elections and the legislature’s mandate expired. Opposition leaders accused him of wanting to return Haiti to a dictatorship.
Earlier this year, Moise ordered the retirement of three Supreme Court judges and the arrest of nearly two dozen people, including prominent officials, who he alleged were plotting a coup. Violent protests against Moise erupted, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency in parts of the country in March.
The growing constitutional crisis along with economic woes, escalating gang violence and a deadly COVID-19 outbreak have undermined efforts to rebuild Haiti from a devastating earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Moise had told a Spanish language newspaper in January that he feared people wanted to kill him. But Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., told reporters last week that there was “no warning” ahead of the pre-dawn attack.
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