Haitians Say They Got Death Threats for Refusing to Tamper With Moïse Evidence

Haitians Say They Got Death Threats for Refusing to Tamper With Moïse Evidence
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Haitians Say They Got Death Threats for Refusing to Tamper With Moïse Evidence

Haitians Say They Got Death Threats for Refusing to Tamper With Moïse Evidence

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – They examined the bodies of the assassinated Haitian president and mercenaries accused of plotting to kill him. Now they are in hiding, changing locations every few hours, with a backpack full of legal documents that could determine the fate of Haiti’s most important trial in decades.

A judge and two clerks who gathered evidence for the investigation into the murder of President Jovenel Moïse said in interviews and in formal complaints to the prosecutor’s office that callers and unknown visitors pressured them to change the rules. affidavits of witnesses. If they did not comply, they were told, they could “expect a bullet to the head.”

Their requests for help from the authorities were ignored, said clerks Marcelin Valentin and Waky Philostène; and Justice of the Peace Carl Henry Destin, putting their lives in danger.

The threats have also jeopardized an investigation which experts say was marred from the start by irregularities – and which many Haitians fear not revealing the truth about the murder, despite the wishes of the country’s current rulers. do justice quickly.

“There are big interests at stake that are not interested in resolving this matter,” Mr. Valentin said. “There is no progress, no will to find the truth.”

During an interview at a safe house in Haiti, Mr. Valentin and Mr. Philostène described witnessing numerous procedural violations while accompanying the investigating judges to the president’s residence and to the homes of the suspects. Police moved the bodies of those suspected of being assailants, took away some of the evidence and denied them access to the crime scene for hours, they said, in violation of Haitian legal code.

More than three weeks after attackers stormed Mr. Moïse’s residence and shot him 12 times in his bedroom, Haitian investigators have detained or are looking for more than 50 suspects. But none of the 44 detainees – including the 18 retired Colombian commandos accused of participating in the assault on the presidential residence and the more than a dozen security agents tasked with protecting Mr. Moïse – were charged or brought to justice.

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Haitian law requires suspects to be charged within 48 hours or released, and lawyers representing some of the suspects have said the delay could jeopardize the trial. Many of those detained were denied access to a lawyer and some told legal representatives that they had been beaten to extract confessions.

Although Haiti’s legal system has long been plagued by corruption and dysfunction, experts and defense lawyers said they had never seen such systematic violations of due process in a high-profile case.

“This is all highly irregular and illegal,” said Samuel Madistin, a lawyer representing two of the suspects. “If people don’t trust the process, they won’t trust the verdict. “

A few hours after the assassination of Mr. Moïse on July 7, the country’s interim Prime Minister, Claude Joseph, pledged to bring those responsible to justice.

“You can kill the president, but you cannot kill his dreams, you cannot kill his ideology and you cannot kill what he was fighting for,” Mr. Joseph said. “This is why I am determined to obtain justice for President Jovenel Moïse.

Soon after, Mr. Joseph asked Interpol and the security agencies of the United States and Colombia to send investigators to Haiti. However, once there, some of them found it difficult to access evidence and suspects, according to officials close to the investigation. They say it wasted an opportunity to move the case to a crucial stage.

In addition, none of the suspects detained or wanted by Haitian police appear to have the resources or connections to organize and finance a plot that Haitian and Colombian authorities say was hatched in Haiti and Florida and involved robbery in two dozens of highly skilled former commandos. Columbia.

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“What really interests me is that we catch the person who gave the order,” said Martine Moïse, the wife of Mr. Moïse, who was seriously injured in the attack. “It’s about finding the people who paid the money.

Ms. Moïse said she had placed her hopes for a breakthrough in international investigators, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which sent a delegation to assist the Haitian police.

Few in Haiti believe that the country’s underpaid and understaffed police and prosecutors will be able to find the ultimate culprit on their own. And the dysfunction of the country’s legal system made the investigation vulnerable to manipulation, legal experts said.

“We do not have the rule of law in Haiti,” said Pierre Espérance, a prominent Haitian human rights activist. “All the institutions have been dismantled for personal gain. “

Mr. Valentin, the clerk, said that shortly after attending the initial interviews of the detained suspects and writing down their statements, he received a phone call from Mr. Moïse’s security chief, Jean Laguel Civil, asking him what they had said.

Later that day, he said, he received a visit in his office from a man he did not know, who asked Mr. Valentin to add the names of two prominent Haitians – Reginald Boulos, a businessman, and Youri Latortue, a politician – to the statements of the suspects, in fact implicating them in the plot.

After Mr. Valentin refused, he said, he began to receive death threats.

“Clerk, you can expect a bullet in the head”, we can read in an SMS received by Mr. Valentin on July 16, according to a copy of an official complaint that he filed with the prosecution. “We have ordered you to do something, and you are doing everything for yourself. “

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Mr Boulos, the businessman, cited the attempt to weave his name into the plot as an example of how powerful people were trying to take advantage of the case to persecute opponents.

“They couldn’t find any evidence against me,” Boulos said in an interview, so “they’re trying to reverse the process by lobbying and threatening the courts.”

Mr Valentin’s colleague Mr Philostène said he received similar threats from the same number around the same time.

Mr. Civil, the security chief, has since been arrested in connection with the assassination. His lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Valentin and Mr. Philostène said their complaints about the threats were ignored. They said the police chief and the justice minister promised them an armed escort but never came.

Mr Destin, the investigating judge who attended the crime scene and examined the president’s body, said he was also pressured to change affidavits and was threatened of death if he did not do so. He kept the interview short, he said, afraid to speak.

The police chief, Léon Charles, did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.

Ordinary corruption also appears to have tainted the investigation. Court documents show that two former Colombian soldiers killed after the assassination were found with around $ 42,000 in cash on or near their bodies. In subsequent police reports, money was not among the evidence found at the scene.

Such apparent embezzlement, Mr. Valentin said, not only erodes public trust, but, in this case, may have cost investigators the ability to trace the money through serial numbers on invoices.

“This is an exceptional case,” he said. “But it is run under the same system of impunity and corruption as everyone else.”

Reporting was provided by Frances Robles in Miami and by Richard Miguel and Milo Milfort in Port-au-Prince.

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