Haiti minister says ‘big fish’ behind president’s killing still at large

The “big fishes” who masterminded the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, remain at large, a senior government minister has admitted, as the Caribbean country unveiled a new prime minister in a bid to defuse a burgeoning struggle for power.

Police have named two Haitian citizens as key suspects in the murder: a Florida-based pastor called Christian Emmanuel Sanon and the former intelligence officer Joseph Felix Badio. On Friday Colombia’s police chief, Gen Jorge Luis Vargas, claimed Badio might have given the order for two retired Colombian soldiers to assassinate Moïse in the early hours of 7 July for reasons that remain obscure. Sanon was arrested in Haiti last week, and Badio’s whereabouts are unknown.

But speaking to the Guardian, Haiti’s elections minister, Mathias Pierre, said he doubted Sanon and Badio were the main architects of a brazen crime some fear could plunge the Caribbean country into a new chapter of volatility.

“Such a plot for an assassination is not the work of the two people [alone],” Pierre said, referring to the pair.

“We know that there are big fishes out there that wanted the death and are part of the plot to kill the president … There are more powerful people behind this,” the 54-year-old politician added.

Pierre admitted the identity of those conspirators remained unknown: “But we do believe that the president had a lot of enemies – people who didn’t agree with his plan and programs, and certainly with his agenda. And we believe they might be linked to this crime.”

Sanon, a 63-year-old pastor, was arrested in Haiti on 11 July after reportedly flying into its capital, Port-au-Prince, the previous month on a private jet. Reports suggest he harboured half-baked dreams of leading a multibillion-dollar reconstruction of his homeland and becoming one of Haiti’s top leaders.

According to the Washington Post, two US-based companies – Worldwide Investment Development Group and CTU Security – had planned to assemble a private security team to protect Sanon as he returned to Haiti and began working to achieve those objectives.

However, Pierre said he believed Sanon was not the murder’s chief architect but rather had been “used by certain people” with a grudge against Moïse. The precise nature of that grudge is unclear but Pierre claimed there were influential Haitian figures “feeling that their personal interests were in danger and they wanted to do everything to get rid [of the president]”.

“But we would never have thought assassination was part of the game plan,” Pierre added on Monday as Haiti’s acting prime minister, Claude Joseph, announced he was stepping aside in favour of the politician Moïse had named as his new prime minister shortly before being killed.

Ariel Henry, who was due to be installed as prime minister on the day of Moïse’s murder, has received the backing of foreign governments including the US, Brazil, Canada and the EU.

“There is no power struggle,” Pierre said after Joseph’s decision to step down, which followed days of speculation over who was in charge of Haiti.

Moïse is due to be buried on Friday in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien. His wife, who was wounded in the attack on their home, returned to Haiti last Saturday after being rushed to the US for emergency treatment following the killing.

Pierre said Moïse had repeatedly spoken of supposed plots to murder him, “but there was no immediate threat”.

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