The Washington Post

Charges sought against Haitian leader in assassinat­ion

Prime minister fires prosecutor as new power struggle emerges

- BY WIDLORE MERANCOURT AND ANTHONY FAIOLA anthony.faiola@washpost.com Faiola reported from Miami.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — One of Haiti’s top prosecutor­s sought charges against Prime Minister Ariel Henry in connection with the July assassinat­ion of President Jovenel Moïse, adding new uncertaint­y to a nation reeling from political instabilit­y, gang violence and the aftermath of a major earthquake.

The developmen­ts in Port-auPrince on Tuesday suggested a power struggle between bitter rival factions vying to fill the political vacuum left by Moïse’s killing.

Port-au-prince prosecutor BedFord Claude asked a judge to charge Henry and bar him from leaving the country, after Henry failed to show up for questionin­g. He said Henry had been in telephone contact with a chief suspect in the case — Joseph Felix Badio, a former government official — in the hours after the July 7 slaying, according to a copy of the twopage indictment request.

In a letter circulated Tuesday but dated Monday, the prime minister fired Claude. It was unclear whether Claude’s request for Henry’s indictment occurred before or after the terminatio­n letter was sent. A new prosecutor for Portau-prince was named Tuesday.

Some claimed that Henry’s enemies were using the judicial system to try to thwart the prime minister’s attempts to forge a unity government with some members of the political opposition. Henry is considered an outsider among Moïse’s former lieutenant­s, and a deal he struck with the opposition on Saturday might have meant ousting key ministers who had been close to Moïse.

The allegation­s against Henry neverthele­ss amount to a new twist in the complex investigat­ion of the assassinat­ion, and they are expected to fuel renewed calls for an independen­t caretaker government.

Henry “has been in his position for more than a month, and there is no vision or leadership or real action taken to change the dire situation of the country,” said James Beltis, an anticorrup­tion activist. “Adding to that, his name is implicated in this assassinat­ion scandal. That’s another reason for him to leave power.”

Haiti is struggling with the aftermath of an earthquake last month that killed over 2,200 people. Hard-hit communitie­s say not enough is being done to aid them.

Henry, Moïse’s choice for prime minister before his death, emerged from an earlier power struggle within the slain president’s inner circle to take the office a week and half after the assassinat­ion, with the backing of the internatio­nal community. Claude sought Henry’s indictment on charges including assassinat­ion, conspiracy against the state and armed robbery.

“There are enough compromise­d elements against the prime minister to indict him, pure and simple,” Claude wrote.

Henry did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment.

Investigat­ing judge Garry Orelien on Monday called the slain president’s widow, former first lady Martine Moïse, to appear for questionin­g. He did not provide a reason.

Claude’s request that Henry be charged came three days after the prime minister reached a powershari­ng deal with some of the political opposition. Under the agreement, Henry would set up a unity government to lead the nation until elections that would be held no later than the end of 2022. He was the only one in the current cabinet guaranteed a job.

Some described Claude’s request for charges, based on two phone calls Henry allegedly had with Badio on July 7, the contents of which prosecutor­s did not appear to have knowledge of, as a last-ditch effort by Henry’s political rivals to foil that deal.

“The prosecutor grossly exceeded his mandate,” said Pierre Espérance, head of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network. “This is about a struggle for power for who will rule Haiti. I am not a fan of Ariel Henry, but I cannot support and I must condemn those who would use the judicial system in this way.”

Claude did not respond to a request for comment.

In the document requesting charges, he said the calls lasted a total of seven minutes and were pinpointed to locations near the president’s estate, where he was killed, and the Hotel Montana in Port-au-prince. He also noted that a member of Henry’s cabinet said the prime minister had denied speaking with Badio that night.

Claude’s request is not an indictment. Rather, under Haitian law, the investigat­ing judge can decide whether to act on the prosecutor’s request to press charges. The force of the request remained in doubt following Henry’s move to fire Claude on Tuesday.

The Moïse assassinat­ion remains one of the world’s most mysterious whodunits. The president was shot to death after a team of armed men descended on his home early on July 7. The investigat­ion has been laden with claims and countercla­ims of plots, turncoats and foreign guns for hire. Haitian authoritie­s have invited internatio­nal experts including the FBI to aid in the probe and are detaining 44 people. They include Haitian police officers, presidenti­al guards and former members of the Colombian military.

Henry, a 71-year-old neurosurge­on, was named prime minister by Moïse two days before his slaying. In the hours after the shooting, he told The Washington Post in July, he feared “for his life.” He said Claude Joseph, the outgoing prime minister, was seeking to usurp him. The men later reached an agreement in which Henry, backed by the United States and European powers, became interim leader. But civil society groups have insisted that an independen­t caretaker government should lead the country toward elections.

Haitian and Colombian officials have called Badio a key suspect in Moïse’s killing. Two months before, he was fired from the government’s anti-corruption unit. Colombian officials in midJuly said evidence suggested Badio gave the assassinat­ion order to two Colombians. He has been in hiding since the killing.

Marie Rosy Kesner Auguste Ducena, program manager with the National Human Rights Defense Network, said Claude’s request for charges appeared to be based on minimal evidence.

“There are a lot of people who were in communicat­ion with Joseph Felix Badio,” she said. “But we are under the impression that Haitian authoritie­s are not talking about them.”

“There are enough compromise­d elements against the prime minister to indict him, pure and simple.” Prosecutor Bed-ford Claude, who asked a judge to charge the prime minister

 ?? JOSEPH Odelyn/associated PRESS ?? Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, center, and other leaders attend a memorial service for slain President Jovenel Moïse in Port-auPrince in July. A prosecutor asked a judge to charge Henry, saying he was in contact with a chief suspect shortly after the assassinat­ion.
JOSEPH Odelyn/associated PRESS Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, center, and other leaders attend a memorial service for slain President Jovenel Moïse in Port-auPrince in July. A prosecutor asked a judge to charge Henry, saying he was in contact with a chief suspect shortly after the assassinat­ion.

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