PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The arrest of a failed Haitian businessman living in Florida who authorities say was a key player in the killing of Haiti’s president deepened the mystery Monday into an already convoluted plot surrounding the assassination.
Haitian authorities identified the suspect as Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 62, who once expressed a desire to lead his country in a YouTube video. However he is unknown in Haitian political circles, and associates suggested he was duped by those really behind the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in an attack last week that critically wounded his wife, Martine, who remains hospitalized in Miami.
A Florida friend of Sanon told The Associated Press that the suspect is an evangelical Christian pastor and a licensed physician in Haiti, but not in the U.S. The associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of safety concerns, said Sanon told him he was approached by people claiming to represent the U.S. State and Justice departments who wanted to install him as president.
The associate said the plan was for Moïse to be arrested, not killed. He said Sanon would not have participated if he knew Moïse would be assassinated.
“I guarantee you that,” the associate said. “This was supposed to be a mission to save Haiti from hell, with support from the U.S. government.”
Haiti’s National Police chief, Léon Charles, said Moïse’s killers were protecting Sanon, whom he accused of working with those who plotted in the assassination. He gave no information on the purported masterminds.
Charles said officers found a hat with the logo of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 20 boxes of bullets, gun parts, four license plates from the Dominican Republic, two cars and correspondence with unidentified people, among other things, in Sanon’s house in Haiti.
Twenty-six former Colombian soldiers are suspected in the killing and 23 have been arrested, along with three Haitians. Charles said five suspects are still at large and at least three have been killed.
“They are dangerous individuals,” Charles said. “I’m talking commando, specialized commando.”
Meanwhile, Colombia’s national police chief, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, said that a Florida-based enterprise, CTU Security, used the company credit card to buy 19 plane tickets from Bogota to Santo Domingo for the Colombian suspects. Most arrived in the Dominican Republic in June and moved into Haiti within weeks, Vargas said.
The Colombians are cooperating with Haiti’s investigation, Vargas said.
He said that Dimitri Hérard, head of general security at Haiti’s National Palace, flew to Colombia, Ecuador and Panama in the months prior to the assassination, and Colombian police are investigating whether he had any role in recruiting the mercenaries. In Haiti, prosecutors are seeking to interrogate Hérard over the assassination.
Charles, Haiti’s police chief, said Sanon was in contact with CTU Security and that the company recruited the suspects in the killing. He said Sanon flew into Haiti in June on a private jet accompanied by several of the alleged gunmen.
The suspects’ initial mission was to protect Sanon, but they later received a new order: to arrest the president, Charles said.
“The operation started from there,” he said, adding that 22 additional suspects joined the group.
Charles said that after Moïse was killed, one suspect phoned Sanon, who then got in touch with two people believed to be masterminds of the plot. He did not identify them or say if police know who they are.
Sanon’s associate said he attended a recent meeting in Florida with Sanon and about a dozen other people, including Antonio Enmanuel Intriago Valera, a Venezuelan émigré to Miami who runs CTU Security. He said a presentation was made for rebuilding the country, including its water system, converting trash into energy and fixing the roads.
He said Sanon asked why the security team accompanying him to Haiti were all Colombians. Sanon was told Haitians couldn’t be trusted and that the system is corrupt, the associate said. He said Sanon called him from Haiti a few days before the assassination and said the Colombians had disappeared, leaving him alone.
“I’m all by myself. Who are these people? I don’t know what they are doing,” the associate quoted Sanon as saying.
Sanon “is completely gullible,” the associate added. “He thinks God is going to save everything.”