Colombian police said on Monday they could not share any hypothesis about the murder of Haitian President Jovenel Moise and that they respect the Haitian state’s autonomy, after 18 Colombians tied to the case were arrested and three more killed.
Moise was shot dead early on Wednesday at his Port-au-Prince home by what Haitian authorities describe as a unit of assassins formed of 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans. Haitian police said on Sunday they had arrested another key suspect.
The death of the president has plunged the troubled country into deeper turmoil, and U.S. officials traveled there on Sunday to assess the situation and meet three politicians who have staked competing claims to take charge of Haiti.
On Sunday, Haitian police said they had detained one of the suspected plot masterminds, 63-year-old Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian man whom authorities accuse of hiring mercenaries to oust and replace Moise. They did not explain Sanon’s motives beyond saying they were political.
“We cannot construct any hypothesis,” General Jorge Luis Vargas, head of the Colombian national police, told journalists in Bogota. “We respect the judicial autonomy of the Haitian state and its authorities.”
Families of some of the Colombians, many ex-soldiers, have said their relatives were hired as bodyguards, not as mercenaries, and that they did not kill Moise.
The men were initially contracted to protect Sanon, and were later presented with a warrant to arrest Moise, Haiti’s National Police Chief Leon Charles said Sunday.
Photos said to be of Sanon meeting with a group of men, including another suspect in the case, Haitian-American James Solages, began circulating on social media late on Sunday. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the images.
A man by Sanon’s name is listed online as a doctor who has worked in Florida, where a security company that Haitian authorities say hired suspects in the case is based.
Most of the detainees were held after an overnight shoot-out on Wednesday in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, and three killed.
Nineteen tickets to Haiti were bought for the men via the Miami-based security company CTU, Vargas added.
Run by Venezuelan emigre Antonio Enmanuel Intriago Valera, CTU has not responded to requests for comment from Reuters.
According to Colombian police, a man named Dimitri Herard, who served as Moise’s head of security, transited through Colombia multiple times earlier this year, during trips to Ecuador and the Dominican Republic between January and May.
Colombian authorities are investigating Herard’s activities during his visits, police chief Vargas said.
High-ranking Colombian intelligence officials have been in Haiti since Friday to assist with the investigation.
Haitians in parts of Port-au-Prince were planning protests this week against interim prime minister and acting head of state Claude Joseph, according to social media posts.
Joseph’s right to lead the country has been challenged by two other senior politicians, Prime Minister-Designate Ariel Henry and Senate President Joseph Lambert.
Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, said the U.S. delegation sent to take stock of things in Haiti held a joint meeting with the three men.
During it, the U.S. representatives encouraged open and constructive dialog to reach an agreement to enable Haiti to hold free and fair elections, Horne said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday the delegation had returned to Washington. They briefed Biden on Monday morning, she said.
“What was clear about their trip is that there is a lack of clarity about the future of political leadership (in Haiti),” Psaki told a regular news briefing.
“It (the delegation’s trip to Haiti) was a reminder how vital it is for Haiti’s leaders to come together to chart a united path forward,” Psaki said. “We will remain in close touch with law enforcement, with individuals in Haiti, with a range of leaders in Haiti about how we can assist and provide assistance moving forward.”
She said the Biden administration was still reviewing the Haitian request to send troops to Haiti.
In her statement Horne said the delegation reviewed the security of critical infrastructure with Haitian government officials and met with the Haitian National Police, which is leading the investigation into the assassination.
Henry, a neurosurgeon who was named prime minister by Moise on Monday, two days before Moise was killed, said on Saturday he was now the highest authority in Haiti, not Joseph. Haiti’s Senate on Friday nominated Lambert to be interim president.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Andre Paultre Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Alistair Bell)