Haitian President’s Murder Case Yields an Unexpected Name: the First Lady’s

A Haitian prosecutor has recommended charges against 70 people for the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Among the former Colombian soldiers and Haitian government officials accused in the case is one unexpected name: former First Lady Martine Moïse, who was seriously injured in the attack.

A copy of a criminal complaint filed by a public prosecutor and submitted to a Haitian court that was obtained by The New York Times does not accuse her of planning the killing or offer any direct evidence of her involvement.

Instead, it says that she and other accomplices gave statements that were contradicted by other witnesses, suggesting that they were complicit in the attack and notes that one of the main suspects in custody in Haiti claimed Mrs. Moïse wanted to take over the presidency.

The complaint did not provide any more details about Mrs. Moise’s statements.

Her lawyer denied the accusations.

“We do not believe that she is or could ever be a suspect in the case,” the lawyer, Paul Turner, who is based in Florida, told The Times. “She was a victim, just like her children that were there, and her husband.” Some critics also said they believed the complaint had been tainted by politics.

The accusation against Mr. Moïse’s widow is the most surprising detail in the complaint, which is based on interviews with dozens of witnesses and took more than two years to produce.

Under Haiti’s legal system, the prosecutor’s filing is not binding and only the investigating judge, who did not respond to requests for comment, can issue formal charges.

The complaint was prepared by the public prosecutor for the capital, Port-au-Prince, Edler Guillaume, a political appointee of the current government.

Some legal analysts said the complaint raised concerns that the country’s judicial system was being weaponized to deflect attention from accusations that some senior government officials, including the prime minister, have been implicated in the assassination.

Records show the prime minister, Ariel Henry, had spoken to a key conspirator by phone shortly before and after the killing. Mr. Henry has denied any involvement in the assassination.

Mrs. Moïse has long criticized the investigation, saying Haitian officials have shown little interest in unmasking the masterminds of the crime.

Dan Foote, a former U.S. special envoy to Haiti, called the complaint “another bad act” in the aftermath of the assassination. “The fact that this government is running the investigation is bad enough,” Mr. Foote said. “It’s not even close to independent.”

A separate investigation in the United States has resulted in federal charges against 11 men accused of conspiring to kill Mr. Moïse. Five men pleaded guilty, and the former first lady is expected to testify at the trial for the remaining defendants, which is scheduled this year in South Florida.

Mr. Moïse, 53, was killed on July 7, 2021, when 20 Colombian commandos, hired by a Miami-area security company, stormed the president’s home outside the Haitian capital in the middle of the night, the Haitian investigation showed.

His security guards were largely absent or put up little or no resistance, which raised suspicions that the assassination had been an inside job. The president and his wife were shot as the gunmen ransacked their house, apparently in search of cash and documents.

Since Mr. Moïse was killed, Haiti has descended into violence and political upheaval. Gangs have seized control of much of the capital, killing and kidnapping thousands of people, while elections have not been held for voters to select Mr. Moïse’s replacement.

A multinational deployment led by Kenya aimed at helping secure Haiti was blocked by a Kenyan court last month, but officials there said they plan to send a force despite the legal ruling.

The investigating judge in Mr. Moïse’s assassination, Walther Voltaire, is expected to issue a final indictment this month. He could follow Mr. Guillaume’s recommendations or choose to drop or add charges.

“The case is moving forward vigorously,” Mr. Guillaume said, declining to comment further.

Lawyers for several defendants in the federal case in Miami said none of the evidence they had been provided suggested that the U.S. Department of Justice believes Mrs. Moïse played a role in her husband’s death.

Justice Department officials declined to comment.

Mr. Turner, Mrs. Moïse’s lawyer, said his client had given Haitian investigators an initial statement but had not been willing to travel to Haiti for follow-up interviews because of the country’s lack of security.

Federal prosecutors, he added, have told her not to speak about the assassination until after she testifies in the Florida case.

An arrest warrant ordering Mrs. Moise to appear for questioning in Haiti, issued when a person fails to abide by a prior summons, was signed in October and made public last week.

Mr. Turner said it was unlikely that she was ever served with a subpoena from Haiti because she is in hiding and her current location is unknown to all but a few people.

Mr. Turner, who represents other Haitians subpoenaed in the assassination investigation, said prosecutors were unwilling to make accommodations for witnesses who feared traveling to Haiti by allowing them to make statements in the United States or via video conference.

Haitian authorities have already arrested 44 people in connection with the crime, including 20 Colombians, 19 Haitian law enforcement officers, including three heads of the presidential security detail. All are among the 70 people named in the public prosecutor’s complaint.

None of the jailed defendants have been officially charged, suggesting that politics has played a role in the case, said Brian Concannon, executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, a left-leaning advocacy and human rights group.

“It’s a system that is very subject to political manipulation,” Mr. Concannon said. “You have a prime minister who already fired a previous prosecutor who asked too many awkward questions.”

The prime minister’s office said Mr. Henry has no control over the investigators, who a spokesman insisted operate independently.

“The prime minister has no direct relationship with the examining magistrate, nor does he control him,’’ said Jean-Junior Joseph, Mr. Henry’s spokesman. “The judge remains free to issue his order in accordance with the law and his conscience.”

Claude Joseph, a former Haitian prime minister who is also named in the prosecutor’s complaint as among those considered “complicit” in Mr. Moïse’s killing, said the allegations point to an abuse of the country’s judicial system.

“It makes no sense,” he said. “Why would Martine Moïse have her husband killed in a massive plot involving 20 Colombian former soldiers when they live together and could find a million easier ways to get rid of him if she wanted to?”

Some of the evidence cited in the prosecutor’s criminal complaint is attributed to Joseph Félix Badio, a former military officer who told the authorities that Claude Joseph and Mrs. Moïse discussed taking over his presidency. Claude Joseph denies that any such conversation took place.

Mr. Badio, named in the complaint as one of the key organizers of the assassination, was arrested in October outside a supermarket after more than two years as a fugitive. He has said that he had nothing to do with the president’s killing.

Maria Abi-Habib contributed reporting from Mexico City.

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