Florida resident of Haitian descent arrested as final suspect in assassination of president
The man, identified as Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, was accompanied by several of the suspected assailants when he allegedly traveled to the Caribbean island nation aboard a private jet in early June, according to Leon Charles, chief of the Haitian National Police. . Sanon reportedly hired the Colombian nationals through a Venezuelan security firm based in Florida to protect him and his company. But they were later given a new mission: to arrest the president of Haiti, according to Charles.
“The operation started from there,” the police chief said at a press conference on Sunday, adding that several other men joined the group before storming Moise’s home in Port. au-Prince, around 1 a.m. local time on July 7. .
The 53-year-old head of state was shot dead while his wife, Martine Moise, was injured. She has since been transferred to a Florida hospital for treatment and underwent surgery on Saturday, according to Acting Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph.
It is not known how the alleged assassins were able to gain access to the private presidential residence. Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, told ABC News on Friday that the group claimed to be agents of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, which both the Haitian and United States governments have denied. However, Edmond said it was “obvious” that the group also had “internal help”. He described them as “international mercenaries”.
Charles said 26 Colombian nationals are believed to have participated in the murder of Moise. So far, 18 of them have been arrested along with two US citizens and three Haitian nationals, including Sanon. Three of the Colombian suspects were killed while five are still at large, according to Charles, who described them as “dangerous”.
While searching Sanon’s house in Haiti, authorities discovered a hat with the “DEA” logo, 20 boxes of bullets, various parts of firearms, four Dominican Republic car license plates, two cars and correspondence with unidentified individuals. Charles said Sanon came to the country with “political goals”.
In a video posted to YouTube in 2011, Sanon identifies as a doctor and accuses Haitian leaders of corruption, saying “they don’t care about the country, they don’t care about the people.”
“Nine million people cannot live in poverty when we have so many resources in the country,” Sanon said. “We can’t take it anymore. We need new leadership that will change the way of life.”
ABC News could not verify that Sanon is a licensed physician. However, court records show that Sanon lived in Florida, most recently in Boynton Beach, and filed for bankruptcy in 2013. In the bankruptcy filing, Sanon mentions his profession as a “doctor / director” of a foundation. based in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. . Public records indicate that Sanon also lived in Missouri.
Authorities have identified the Americans detained as James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55. Haitian judge Clément Noël, who is familiar with the case, told ABC News on Friday that he had interviewed the two men. They claimed to work as translators for the group and denied being mercenaries, according to Noel. Solages said he found the job on the internet and they were supposed to arrest Moses rather than kill him, Noel told ABC News.
The DEA, in a statement Monday evening, said one of the suspects had “sometimes” been a confidential US agency source.
“After the assassination of President Moise, the suspect contacted his contacts at the DEA. A DEA official assigned to Haiti urged the suspect to surrender to local authorities and, along with a US State Department official, provided information to the Haitian government that assisted in the surrender and arrest of the suspect and another person, ”the statement said.
The DEA declined to identify which suspect was its informant.
Public records show that Solages, who is said to be of Haitian descent, lived in South Florida and co-leads a charity called FWA SA A Jacmel Avan, which was registered in 2019 in Tamarac, Florida. The association is focused on ending child hunger and improving education in Haiti, according to its website. A biography of Solages on the website describes him as a “certified diplomatic agent” who previously worked as a bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. ABC News has not been able to independently verify these claims.
Solages is also the CEO of a Fort Lauderdale-area company called EJS Maintenance & Repair, which was formed in 2019, according to state records.
Meanwhile, court records show Vincent was born in Port-au-Prince but lived in South Florida, including Miami. He was charged with auto theft and passport fraud in the United States in the 1990s. He pleaded guilty to the latter charge in 1999 and a federal judge sentenced him to two years probation. It was not clear from the court records how the other charge, which arose in 1995, was resolved.
The US State Department is “certainly aware of the arrest of the two US citizens who are in Haiti and continues (s) to monitor the situation closely,” said deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter on Friday, refusing to comment. comment further for “confidentiality considerations”. “
The Haitian government has called on the United States to send troops in the wake of the president’s assassination to help stabilize the turbulent and impoverished country and secure its critical infrastructure, such as the oil reserves and the international airport. Instead, the US government agreed to send senior officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Department of Homeland Security to help with the investigation, according to the White House.
Michel Dessources, a spokesperson for the Haitian prime minister’s office, told ABC News on Sunday that US officials have arrived in Haiti.
The Department of Justice, in a statement released Monday evening, said it was assisting the Haitian National Police in the investigation and that it “will also investigate whether there have been any violations of American criminal law in connection with this. case ”.
In an interview with ABC News on Friday, Haiti’s acting prime minister said Moise was tortured before he was killed and authorities believed they “had the right people” in custody.
“Mercenaries came to the president’s house, they tortured him and they killed him,” Joseph told ABC News. “We firmly believe that justice will be served to President Jovenel Moise.”
Haiti’s line of succession remains unclear. But Joseph, who has declared a “state of siege” and is currently in charge with the help of the country’s military and national police, said he would only take control temporarily until the election. a new president. The international community has called on Haiti to move forward with the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for the end of the year.
Moise’s political opponents had argued that his five-year presidential term ended in February, while the late president said he had one more year left because the contested 2016 election delayed his inauguration until in 2017.
Moise had ruled by decree since January 2020, after the country failed to hold legislative elections and the legislature’s term expired. Opposition leaders accused him of wanting to bring Haiti back to a dictatorship.
Earlier this year, Moise ordered the retirement of three Supreme Court justices and the arrest of nearly two dozen people, including senior officials, who he said were plotting a coup. Violent protests against Moise erupted, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency in parts of the country in March.
The growing constitutional crisis along with economic hardship, escalating gang violence and a deadly COVID-19 epidemic have undermined efforts to rebuild Haiti after a devastating earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Moise had told a Spanish-language newspaper in January that he feared people would want to kill him. But Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters last week that there was “no warning” before the attack before dawn.
ABC News’s Malka Abramoff, Aicha El Hammar Castano, Guy Davies, Linsey Davis, Conor Finnegan, Justin Gomez, Sarah Kolinovsky, Kathryn McQuade, Victoria Moll-Ramirez, Marcus Moore, Kirit Radia, Christine Theodorou, Alexander Mallin and Luke Barr have contributed to this report.