Haiti’s chief prosecutor said Tuesday that there was evidence linking the acting prime minister to the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, and forbade him to leave the country until he answers questions about it.
Last week, the prosecutor issued a police summons for the prime minister, Ariel Henry, requesting that he testify about contact he had with one of the chief suspects in the killing. Phone records show that Henry spoke with the suspect — Joseph Badio, a former government officer — in the hours after Moïse was killed in his residence near Port-au-Prince, the capital.
Henry is by far the most prominent figure to be swept up in a murder investigation that has resulted in the arrest of more than 40 people but has shed little light onto who ordered and paid for the president’s murder — and why.
The detained have included Moïse’s security officers, businessmen, three Haitian Americans, and 18 Colombian mercenaries accused of leading the assault on Moïse’s residence. And the police have issued at least a dozen more arrest warrants, including one for Badio, whom Haitian authorities accuse of arming and directing the Colombian mercenaries on the night of the attack.
But as leads grow cold and key suspects vanish, the investigation appears to be descending into a political power struggle. Competing elite factions are using Moïse’s murder to attack opponents, leading many Haitians to fear that they will never see justice done for a crime that has left the nation adrift.
The prime minister’s office called the travel ban illegal and “political theater,” and said it had not been directly informed about the move by the prosecutor, Bed-Ford Claude.
Whether the prosecutor, Claude, has the authority to lead the investigation and to demand Henry’s questioning or charge him in the assassination is doubtful. Claude no longer has authority over the case, which is now in the hands of a judge.
And Haitian law forbids judicial officials to prosecute senior civil servants without the authorization of the head of state, the position arguably now occupied by Henry.
Henry, a neurosurgeon who was named prime minister by Moïse just days before the killing, has struggled to assert his authority over the country since being sworn into office in July. In previous remarks to the news media, Henry has denied any connection to the killing and said that the masterminds of the plot remained at large.
The police are investigating a complex plot that they say stretches across several countries and revolves around a little-known doctor and pastor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, who was born in Haiti and lives in Florida. Officials say he conspired to kill the president and seize power.
But none of the detained suspects appear to have had the means to finance the plot — or the ability to take power after the president’s death. That has left many questions unanswered.
In the meantime, a political rift that began in the later years of Moïse’s presidency has worsened since his assassination. It has cleaved the Haitian leadership, brought further instability to a country that faces a series of crises, and threatened the integrity of the investigation into his death.
Haiti’s Cabinet is now split between allies of Moïse and those of his predecessor, Michel Martelly, who is the expected frontrunner in the next presidential election.
Martelly tapped Moïse to succeed him as president in 2015, plucking him from political obscurity. But officials close to Moïse said the relationship between the two men had grown increasingly tense, with Martelly angry at Moïse for not openly endorsing him for the next elections.
In the weeks before the president’s death, Martelly pressured Moïse to shake up his Cabinet, appointing new ministers and Henry as prime minister, according to an international diplomat and officials close to the deceased president.
But Moïse insisted on keeping several officials in key positions, including the justice and finance ministers and the state prosecutor, who are now trying to push forward the murder investigation.
Diplomats say the national elections that were planned for this year are likely to be delayed until next year, amid violence and the political disarray.
Days after the chief prosecutor summoned Henry for questioning, the Haitian news media reported that the prime minister had relieved the justice minister and the prosecutor of their functions. Those reports were confirmed by two officials familiar with the matter.