WASHINGTON – One of the suspects implicated in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise was a DEA informant, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official told VOA in an emailed statement.
“At times, one of the suspects in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was a confidential source to the DEA,” the official confirmed. “Following the assassination of President Moïse, the suspect reached out to his contacts at the DEA. A DEA official assigned to Haiti urged the suspect to surrender to local authorities and, along with a U.S. State Department official, provided information to the Haitian government that assisted in the surrender and arrest of the suspect and one other individual.”
The DEA official did not identify the suspect.
Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. Bocchit Edmond told reporters last week he had seen video footage obtained by the national police and deemed credible, in which the assassins, whom he described as “mercenaries,” posed as agents of the DEA.
“They [were] speaking Spanish and presented themselves as DEA agents. As we well know, this is not the way the DEA operates. I believe they are fake DEA agents. Experts who saw the video said those are professional killers,” Edmond told reporters.
“DEA is aware of reports that President Moïse’s assassins yelled ‘DEA’ at the time of their attack,” the Drug Enforcement Agency official said. “These individuals were not acting on behalf of DEA.”
Moïse was shot to death at his private residence in a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince in the early morning hours of July 7. His wife, Martine Moïse, was seriously wounded in the attack and is in good condition after undergoing surgery in Miami, Florida.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who took charge shortly after the president’s death, told reporters Sunday he has spoken with the first lady several times.
The DEA declined to specify how many of its agents are currently working in Haiti, citing “security” concerns. According to a U.S. Justice Department Inspector General report, the DEA established an office in Haiti in 1987, a year after the coup that removed dictator Jean Claude Duvalier from power.
Arrests so far
Haitian National Police Chief Leon Charles said police have arrested 18 Colombians and three Haitians in connection with the attack, and that at least five other people were believed to be at large.
The three Haitian Americans currently in police custody have been identified as Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, believed to be the assassination plot mastermind, James Solages, 35, and Joseph G. Vincent, 55.
Charles said Sanon arrived in Haiti on a private plane in early June with some of the Colombians. He said some of the assailants contacted him by phone shortly after the assassination. Police seized weapons, munitions, a Dominican Republic vehicle registration, two vehicles and documents addressed to various sectors of the population, Charles told reporters.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said officials are aware that Haitian Americans are in police custody.
“We continue to monitor the situation closely. As in all cases, we will provide appropriate consular services to detained U.S. citizens,” Price said. “Obviously, privacy considerations preclude us from saying much more, but I do suspect that once we have had access to all three American citizens who are detained, we’ll be in a position to confirm that.”
In New York, Colombia’s Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marta Lucia Ramirez denounced the involvement of Colombian nationals in the Moise assassination after a United Nations Security Council meeting Tuesday.
“Let me say that the Colombian government, but also the judiciary system is working with the Judiciary and intelligence from other countries in order to help the Haitian state to identify all the responsibilities in this crime — in this major crime,” Ramirez told reporters, adding that her country is also working with the International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol.
“And of course, we are helping Interpol in order to have all the information, the track record about the time when they lived in Colombia, all the information about their communications, everything in order to clarify this horrible crime,” Ramirez said. “Everybody who is involved, everybody who was a physical or intellectual actor of this crime must be punished, and must be punished with an extreme and very high capacity of international justice and the Colombian justice and others.”
US delegation in Haiti
U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday he dispatched a team to Haiti help with the investigation. The decision was in response to a request from Haiti for help.
The delegation consists of officials from the Justice, Homeland Security and State departments and the National Security Council arrived Sunday in Haiti, the White House announced.
The FBI told VOA in an emailed statement that it “is currently engaging with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and our law enforcement partners to determine how we can best support this effort.”
In addition to assisting Haitian law enforcement with their own investigation, FBI agents must determine any connections between the plot and Haitian Americans living in the United States, and whether any U.S. laws were violated, said David Gomez, a former FBI special agent and national security expert.
The arrests in Haiti of two Haitian Americans, as well as a Haitian-born doctor with ties to the U.S., in connection with the assassination plot gives U.S. prosecutors jurisdiction to investigate the case, Gomez said.
He added that investigators will likely look into a possible violation of the Neutrality Act, which prohibits Americans from getting involved in foreign affairs such as trying to overthrow a foreign government.
“The United States government wants to determine whether there are any other co-conspirators or people of Haitian American background or any background still in the Miami area who may be party to this conspiracy,” Gomez said.
The initial FBI team in Haiti is likely to be made up of a top headquarters official, as well as agents from the Miami Field Office, which maintains liaison offices for South America and the Caribbean, and the legal attaché in charge of Haiti.
A spokesperson for the Miami Field Office declined to provide details about the investigative team.
In Port-au-Prince, although the interim prime minister has taken charge of Haiti’s political affairs, a leadership vacuum remains. A day before his murder, President Moise named Ariel Henry as the country’s new prime minister. Joseph, who was serving as both prime minister and foreign minister, was to stay on as foreign minister.
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement the U.S. delegation had met with Joseph, Henry and Senate President Joseph Lambert.
“The delegation also met with Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph and Prime Minister-Designate Ariel Henry in a joint meeting, as well as Senate President Joseph Lambert, to encourage open and constructive dialogue to reach a political accord that can enable the country to hold free and fair elections,” the statement said.
Senator Lambert denounced Joseph on Twitter Monday, for criticizing Henry during the meeting.
“I feel insulted. Prime Minister designate #ArielHenry admits that minister @ClaudeJoseph03 denounced him in front of the American delegation,” he tweeted.
Joseph has not yet responded to Lambert’s tweet.
Asked by VOA who the United States considers to be the leader of Haiti, the State Department and White House declined to comment.
State Department spokesman Price told VOA the administration is concerned about Haiti’s institutions and the path to elections.
“It’s about Haiti’s institutions. We continue to support the Haitian people and their constitution, knowing that the constitution needs to be an enduring framework for what happens next,” Price said. “And so yes, in our view there need to be free and fair elections. They need to happen this year — legislative elections, presidential elections — pursuant to the Haitian constitution. And that is precisely why we have continued to support them.”
Masood Farivar, State Department Correspondent Nike Ching, United Nations Correspondent Margaret Besheer, White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman and , Matiado Vilme, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.