Haiti’s chief prosecutor is seeking charges against Prime Minister Ariel Henry in relation to the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, accusing the prime minister of communicating with a key suspect in the case on the night Moise was killed.
Bed-Ford Claude, the Port-au-Prince government commissioner, the equivalent of a federal prosecutor, on Tuesday asked the judge investigating the killing to charge Henry with involvement in the case over alleged phone calls Henry made with the suspect.
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Claude also requested that Henry be barred from leaving Haiti “due to the gravity of the facts exposed”.
“There are enough compromising elements … to prosecute Henry and ask for his outright indictment,” Claude wrote in the order.
There was no immediate comment by the prime minister, who was formally appointed to the post less than two weeks after the assassination, or from his office.
Moise was killed in an attack by gunmen on his private residence in the capital, Port-au-Prince, on July 7.
The assassination plunged Haiti, a nation already struggling with widespread political instability and surging gang violence, into a deeper crisis, fuelling fears among residents that the violence would get worse.
Claude’s order on Tuesday came only days after he “invited” Henry to meet with him to explain why he spoke with one of the main suspects in Moise’s killing.
The prime minister a day later rejected what he said were “diversionary tactics” aimed at sowing confusion and preventing justice from being served.
“The real culprits, the masterminds and sponsors of the odious assassination of President Jovenel Moise, will be identified, brought to justice and punished for their crime,” Henry said on Twitter on September 11.
On Monday, Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection, an ombudsman-like body, demanded Henry step down and urged him to appear in the prosecutor’s office as requested to shed light on the situation.
“We would all love to know the content of that conversation,” lawyer Renan Hedouville, who heads the office, said of the reported calls between Henry and Joseph Badio, a fugitive who once worked at Haiti’s Ministry of Justice and at the government’s anti-corruption unit.
Badio was fired in May amid accusations of violating unspecified ethical rules.
In his two-page order, Claude said the calls were made at 4:03 and 4:20am local time on July 7 and said that evidence shows that Badio was in the vicinity of Moise’s home at that time.
The calls lasted a total of seven minutes and Henry was at the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince at the time, Claude also said, noting that a government official tweeted last month that Henry told him he never spoke with Badio.
“The prime minister cannot remain in his post without clearing up these dark areas,” Hedouville said. “He must wash away all suspicion.”
More than 40 suspects, including 18 former Colombian soldiers and three Haitian Americans, have been arrested in the case so far. Authorities are still looking for additional suspects, including Badio and a former Haitian senator.
But many questions remain unanswered about what took place. “The country is still asking for answers,” Laurent Lamothe, who served as Haitian prime minister from 2012 to 2014, told Al Jazeera one month after the assassination.
Kim Ives, editor at the weekly newspaper Haiti Liberte, said the Haitian prosecutor “upped the game” on Tuesday by seeking charges against Henry after his request to speak to the prime minister was dismissed.
“Ariel Henry is already in a difficult political situation; his legitimacy is very questionable, and this is just adding to his woes,” Ives told Al Jazeera. “A lot of the opposition coalitions who have been sort of debating how to move forward, when to hold elections, how to get out of this quagmire, some of them don’t want him there.”
Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, said “the situation is incredibly volatile” in the Caribbean nation.
The charges being sought against Henry, Marczak told Al Jazeera, “further throw into disarray not only the political fallout of the assassination, but also the international cooperation in helping Haiti to rebuild from its most recent [earthquake]“.