Will Haiti’s PM Be Charged With President’s Murder?

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Haiti's new Prime Minister Ariel Henry poses with Minister of the Economy and Finance Patrick Michel Boisvert (R) during a ceremony at La Primature in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 20, 2021. (Photo by VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP via Getty Images)

By Sarah Marsh

HAVANA, Cuba, Tues. Sept. 14, 2021 (Reuters) – Haiti’s chief public prosecutor has asked the judge overseeing the investigation into the assassination of President Jovenel Moise to charge Prime Minister Ariel Henry as a suspect and ordered migration services not to let him leave the country.

In a letter to Judge Garry Orelien, prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude said phone records showed Henry twice communicated with a key suspect in Moise’s killing on the night of the crime on July 7. That suspect, a former justice ministry official whom Henry has publicly defended, is now on the run.

Henry should be “forbidden from leaving the national territory by air, sea or road due to serious presumption relative to the assassination of the president,” Claude wrote in a letter to the country’s Migration Services.

Chenald Augustin, who works in the prime minister’s communications office, said it did not have an immediate comment. The premier last week dismissed the charges against him as politicking.

Moise was shot dead when assassins stormed his private residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince, plunging the impoverished Caribbean country deeper into turmoil and a political vacuum.

The 53-year old former provincial businessman had been governing by decree for more than a year after Haiti failed to hold legislative and municipal elections amid a political gridlock and had faced many calls to step down.

Decades of political instability as well as natural catastrophes have plagued Haiti’s development. Its aid-dependent economy is the poorest in the Americas, more than a third of Haitians face acute food insecurity have turned swathes of the capital into no go areas.

Claude had invited Henry on Friday to meet with him to discuss the phonecalls with the suspect, noting that he could only summon the premier on presidential orders, but that the country remained without a president.

Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection demanded on Saturday Henry step down and hand himself over to the justice system.

Henry retorted on Twitter that “no distraction, invitation, summons, maneuver, menace or rearguard action” would distract him from his work.

The prime minister announced on Saturday that Haiti’s main political forces had reached an agreement to establish a transition government until the holding of presidential elections and a referendum on whether to adopt a new constitution next year.

The agreement establishes a Council of Ministers under Henry’s leadership.

A constituent assembly made of 33 members appointed by institutions and civil society organizations will have three months to prepare the new constitution.

Moise’s own attempts at holding elections and a constitutional referendum were attacked for being too partisan. Critics called them veiled attempts at installing a dictatorship.

His supporters said he was being punished for going after a corrupt ruling elite and seeking to end undue privileges.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Rosalba O’Brien)