The criminal investigation into the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse took a surreal turn Tuesday when Port-au-Prince’s top prosecutor asked the investigative judge to charge Prime Minister Ariel Henry in connection with the July 7 slaying.
Chief Prosecutor Bedford Claude made the request in a two-page order to Judge Garry Orelien. He asked the judge to bar Henry from leaving the country.
There is just one problem. Claude had already been fired — by the prime minister — when he sent the request, according to a memo from the prime minister’s office.
In the letter dated Monday, Henry told Claude that he had been discharged for “serious administrative infractions.” That same day, Henry also fired Claude’s boss, Justice Minister Rockefeller Vincent, and a key adviser to the late president, Renald Luberice. Luberice was secretary general of the Council of Ministers, the equivalent of a Cabinet. Lubérice, Vincent and Claude have over the past week or so led a campaign by Moïse holdovers against Henry, even demanding his resignation.
Sonel Jean-Francois, a lawyer and former investigative judge, said there is no legal justification for what Claude attempted to do, including asking immigration to block Henry from leaving the country. A Haitian prosecutor must stand down once a case has been transferred over to an investigative judge, who is the only one authorized to launch any probe.
“He cannot pose any act, any investigation, as it relates to this,” Jean-Francois said. “It’s a (provision) in the criminal code that all jurists are aware of.”
Under Haitian law, Claude also cannot issue any mandates against a government minister without the authorization of a president, Jean-Francois said. “There is nothing legal about what he has done.”
Claude’s indictment request was dated Tuesday, the same day he had asked Henry to appear before him to answer questions about why a key suspect in the killing — Joseph Felix Badio, a former justice government official and functionary in the government’s anti-corruption unit as of May — twice called Henry’s cellphone hours after the president was killed.
The calls were noted in a police investigation that was transmitted to Claude weeks ago, along with other logs of calls involving some of the key suspects in the case.
Now a fugitive, Badio was in contact with some of the other suspects, as well as with other political personalities in the lead-up to Moïse’s assassination. However, it wasn’t until a human rights group, the National Human Rights Defense Network, mentioned the call between Badio and Henry, and Henry began making inroads toward a global political agreement with the political class that loyalists close to the deceased president, feeling threatened, began targeting the prime minister.