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Wife of assassinated Haitian president is indicted in his killing

Haiti's President Jovenel Moise sits with his wife Martine during his swearing-in ceremony at Parliament in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday Feb. 7, 2017. A judge investigating the July 2021 assassination of President Moïse issued a final report that indicts his widow, ex-prime minister Claude Joseph and the former chief of Haiti's National Police, Léon Charles, among others.
Dieu Nalio Chery
/
AP
Haiti's President Jovenel Moise sits with his wife Martine during his swearing-in ceremony at Parliament in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday Feb. 7, 2017. A judge investigating the July 2021 assassination of President Moïse issued a final report that indicts his widow, ex-prime minister Claude Joseph and the former chief of Haiti's National Police, Léon Charles, among others.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A judge in Haiti responsible for investigating the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse indicted his widow, Martine Moïse, ex-prime minister Claude Joseph and the former chief of Haiti's National Police, Léon Charles, among others, in a report released Monday.

The indictments are expected to further destabilize Haiti as it struggles with a surge in gang violence and recovers from a spate of violent protests demanding the resignation of current Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Dozens of suspects were indicted in the 122-page report issued by Walther Wesser Voltaire, who is the fifth judge to lead the investigation after previous ones stepped down for various reasons, including fear of being killed.

Charles, who was police chief when Moïse was killed and now serves as Haiti's permanent representative to the Organization of the American States, faces the most serious charges: murder; attempted murder; possession and illegal carrying of weapons; conspiracy against the internal security of the state; and criminal association.

Meanwhile, Joseph and Martine Moïse, who was injured in the attack, are accused of complicity and criminal association.

Charles could not be immediately reached for comment, and Martine Moïse's attorney did not return a message for comment,

Meanwhile, Joseph, the former prime minister, shared a statement with The Associated Press accusing Henry of "undermining" the investigation and benefitting from the president's death.

"Henry ... is weaponizing the Haitian justice system, prosecuting political opponents like me. It's a classic coup d'état," Joseph said. "They failed to kill me and Martine Moïse on July 7th 2021, now they are using the Haitian justice system to advance their Machiavellian agenda."

Joseph again called on Henry to resign and noted that while he was still prime minister, he invited the FBI to help local authorities investigate the killing and wrote the U.N. and OAS for help.

"I won't stop my fight. Justice must be served," he said.

In his report, the judge noted that the former secretary general of the National Palace, Lyonel Valbrun, told authorities that he received "strong pressure" from Martine Moïse to put the president's office at the disposal of Joseph because he needed it to "organize a council of ministers."

Valbrun also said that two days before her husband was killed, Martine Moïse visited the National Palace and spent nearly five hours, from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., removing "a bunch of things."

He said that two days after Jovenel Moïse was slain, Martine Moïse called to tell him that, "Jovenel didn't do anything for us. You have to open the office. The president told Ti Klod to create a council of ministers; he will hold elections in three months so I can become president, now we will have power."

While the document did not identify Ti Klod, the former prime minister, Claude Joseph, is known by that name.

The judge also stated in his report that Martine Moïse "suggested" she took refuge under the marital bed to protect herself from the attackers, but he noted that authorities at the scene found that not "even a giant rat...whose size measures between 35 and 45 centimeters" could fit under the bed.

The judge said the former first lady's statements were "so tainted with contradictions that they leave something to be desired and discredit her."

Others who face charges including murder are Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian-American pastor who visualized himself as Haiti's next president and said he thought Moïse was only going to be arrested; Joseph Vincent, a Haitian-American and former informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Dimitri Hérard, presidential security chief; John Joël Joseph, a former Haitian senator; and Windelle Coq, a Haitian judge whom authorities say is a fugitive.

Sanon, Vincent and Joseph were extradited to the U.S., where a total of 11 suspects face federal charges in the slaying of Haiti's president. At least three of them already have been sentenced.

Meanwhile, more than 40 suspects are languishing in prison in Haiti awaiting trial, although it was not immediately clear how quickly one would be held following Monday's indictments. Among them are 20 former Colombian soldiers.

Milena Carmona, wife of Jheyner Alberto Carmona Flórez, told The Associated Press that he is innocent.

"What's happening is that this crime is a conspiracy of great magnitudes in which powerful people are behind the scenes running everything, and that's why they're not given freedom," she said of the former soldiers.

U.S. prosecutors have described it as a plot hatched in both Haiti and Florida to hire mercenaries to kidnap or kill Moïse, who was 53 when he was slain at his private home near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

The attack began late July 6 and ended July 7, according to witnesses.

Martine Moïse and others who were interrogated said they heard heavy gunfire starting around 1 a.m. that lasted between 30 to to 45 minutes before armed men burst into the bedroom of the presidential couple.

Moïse said she was lying on the ground when she heard the attackers yell, "That's not it! That's not it! That's not it!"

She said the suspects made a video call to identify the exact location of what they were searching as they killed the president. She added that she was face down when the suspects tilted her head and tugged on one of her toes "to ensure that she wasn't alive."

Once they left, Moïse said she dragged herself on the ground and whispered to her husband that she was going to try and go to the hospital.

"That's when she noticed that the president was dead and that his left eye had been removed from the socket," the report stated.

Moïse said a group of about 30 to 50 police officers were supposed to guard the presidential residence, but the judge noted that only a handful of officers were present that night. One officer told the judge that he heard explosions and a voice through a megaphone saying, "Do not shoot! It's a DEA operation! US Army! We know how many officers are inside. Exit with two hands lowered."

Another officer said the head of security of the first lady found her "in critical condition" surrounded by her two children. He said he also saw an undetermined number of people coming out of the president's residence "with briefcases and several envelopes in their possession."

The report quotes Inspector General André Vladimir Paraison saying that the president called him at 1:46 a.m. and told him, "Paraison! Man, hurry up! I'm in trouble! Come quickly and save my life." He said he encountered heavily armed men and couldn't access the residence immediately.

Officers at the scene said they found cars, windows and doors at the president's private home riddled with bullet holes, along with surveillance cameras cut off and a broken lock on the double-wooden door leading to the presidential bedroom.

The judge said some police officers at the residence were disarmed and handcuffed, while others "had time to throw themselves down a ravine" for safety. In addition, the police officer overseeing presidential security was accused of receiving $80,000 to bribe certain officers "to remain inactive" during the assassination, according to the report.

The judge noted how "none of the police providing security to the head of state was in danger. Unfortunately, the head of state was assassinated with ease."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press