SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Four key suspects in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise have been transferred to the United States for prosecution as the case stalls in Haiti amid death threats that have spooked local judges, U.S. officials said. employees on Tuesday.
The suspects now in U.S. government custody include James Solages, 37, and Joseph Vincent, 57, two Haitian-Americans who were among the first to be arrested after Moise was shot 12 times at his private home near to the capital Port-au-Prince on July 7, 2021.
Also charged is Christian Emmanuel Sanon, an elderly pastor, doctor and failed businessman whom authorities have identified as a key player. His associates suggest he was duped by the real — and still unidentified — masterminds behind the assassination, which plunged Haiti deep into political chaos and unleashed a level of gangland violence not seen in decades.
The fourth suspect has been identified as Colombian national German Rivera Garcia, 44, who is among nearly two dozen former Colombian soldiers charged in the case.
Rivera, along with Solages and Vincent, face charges including conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping outside the US and providing material support and resources leading to death, the US Department of Justice said.
Sanon is charged with conspiracy to smuggle goods from the United States and providing illegal export information. Court documents state that he claimed to have sent 20 ballistic vests to Haiti, but the items sent were described as “medical X-ray vests and school supplies.”
It was not known if the four suspects have lawyers who could comment on the development. The men are scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday in Miami.
A total of seven suspects in the case are already in custody in the US. Dozens more still languish in Haiti’s main prison, which is severely overcrowded and often lacks food and water for inmates.
The case has reached a virtual standstill in Haiti, with local authorities last year nominating a fifth judge to investigate the killing after four others were fired or resigned for personal reasons.
A judge told The Associated Press that his family asked him not to take the case because they feared for his life. Another judge resigned after one of his aides died under unclear circumstances.
Court documents state that exactly two months before Moise was killed, Vincent sent Solage a video of a cat “reacting alertly” to the sound of a gunshot, and that Solage laughed, prompting Vincent to reply, “That’s the way , by which Jovenel will be almost, but (earlier) if you really do!”
The document states that Solages responded that “(this) cat is never coming back” and “trust me brother, we are definitely making our final decision.”
Then in June, about 20 former Colombian soldiers were recruited to help arrest the president and protect Sanon, who was posing as Haiti’s new leader. Rivera was in charge of that group, the documents state.
The plan was to detain Moise and take him to an unidentified location by plane, but that plot failed when the suspects could not find a plane or enough weapons, authorities said.
A day before the assassination, Solages falsely told other suspects that it was a CIA operation and that the mission was to kill the president, according to the documents. Shortly before the assassination, authorities said, Solages called out what was allegedly a DEA operation to ensure compliance by the president’s security.
About a year after the murder, U.S. authorities say they interviewed Solages, Vincent and Rivera while they were in custody in Haiti and that they agreed to talk.
The other suspects already in US custody are Rodolphe Jaar, a former US government informant and Haitian businessman who was extradited from the Dominican Republic, where he was detained in January 2022.
That same month, U.S. authorities arrested Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, a former Colombian soldier who was deported from Jamaica after fleeing there from Haiti. While traveling to Colombia, he was detained by US officials in Panama during a layover.
Also in January 2022, authorities arrested former Haitian senator John Joel Joseph, who had also fled to Jamaica.
Alfredo Izaguirre, Palacios’ Miami-based lawyer, said Tuesday’s arrival of the other four suspects would delay the trial because they are all scheduled to be tried at the same time. He said Palacios had been set for the trial to begin in early March, but it could now be delayed by up to four months.
Haitian police say other high-ranking suspects remain at large, including a former Supreme Court judge who authorities say was favored to take power from Moise instead of Sanon as originally planned. Another fugitive is Joseph Badiou, an alleged leader of the plot who previously worked for Haiti’s Justice Department and the government’s anti-corruption unit until he was fired, police said.
Emmanuel Jeanty, a lawyer for the president’s widow Martin Moise, who was injured in the attack and flew to the US for treatment, did not return a message for comment.
In December, Martin Moise tweeted that her husband – who has also been accused of corruption, which he has denied – fought against her, leading to his murder. “Despite the blockades, 17 months later, people are demanding #justice,” she wrote.
Associated Press writer Gisela Salomon in Miami contributed to this report.