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Monday, February 26, 2024
Feb. 26, 2024

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Key suspect in assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is arrested in Haiti

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A key suspect in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse who has been on the run ever since the brazen July 7, 2021, attack in the hills of Port-au-Prince was arrested Thursday in Haiti.

Joseph Félix Badio, a former government functionary who had been fired from his anti-corruption job two months earlier, was apprehended by Haitian police late Thursday in Petionville, National Police spokesman Garry Desrosiers confirmed to the Miami Herald. Wearing a black jacket and checkered shirt, Badio was picked up while grocery shopping in a popular supermarket.

Badio is among several high-profile suspects who remained in hiding more than two years after the killing. There has long been widespread speculation that he was either the key person behind the scenes or a potential mastermind. If he cooperates, he may help investigators in Haiti and in the United States, where a parallel FBI investigation is ongoing, learn the truth about the plot to kill Moïse, who ordered the assassination and why.

More than likely, the judge in charge of the Haitian investigation, Walther Wesser Voltaire, is going to want to question Badio, unless an agreement has already been made with U.S. authorities to extradite him to Miami to face charges.

Last year, Badio released an audio recording in Creole denying his involvement in the assassination plot. He said he wasn’t afraid of U.S. authorities and had written to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, presenting them with documents about the Haitian-Americans and the Colombian commandos accused in the case.

While more than 40 people have been arrested in Haiti, including members of the president’s presidential guard and a group of Colombian mercenaries, none have yet to be formally charged. In the United States 11 people have been charged in the FBI-led case with either conspiring to assassinate Moïse or with playing a supporting role.

In the days after the killing, before going into hiding, Badio had identified himself as a representative of the Counter Terrorist Unit Security, or CTU. The Miami-area security firm was behind the hiring of more than 20 Colombians with military experience who are accused of storming Moïse’s private residence in the middle of the night to kill him.

A Haitian investigative police report first obtained by the Miami Herald showed him to be a key player in the plot and states that he was in contact with a number of suspects who have either been arrested or are wanted in connection with the killing.

Among the allegations:

  • Badio was supposed to steal an assault rifle from the anti-corruption unit where he worked as part of an initial plan to arrest Moïse after he returned from a trip to Turkey in mid-June, weeks before his death. Haitian police said their information was based on their questioning of James Solages, one of the jailed Haitian Americans who said he was working as a translator with the group that stormed the president’s house in the hills above the capital. Solages, according to police, said they had planned to use the services of members of a rogue force of active and former police officers known as Fantom 509 by providing them with seven assault rifles.
  • Between May and June, Badio logged 290 calls with a Cinéus Francis Alexis, whose cellphone was transmitting from Pétionville at 2:04 a.m. on the night of the attack and later in the vicinity of the National Palace.
  • Solages and Joseph Vincent, another Haitian American jailed in the plot, told police that Badio told the group that Jean Laguel Civil, the president’s security coordinator who is currently jailed in Haiti in connection to the plot, had $80,000 in hand to bribe 80 palace guards. Civil’s attorney, Reynold Georges, previously denied the accusation to the Herald, calling it an attempt to “persecute” his client, who he said had nothing to do with the attack.

Haitian police say Badio had been keeping tabs on Moïse for months, and had even rented a house near the president’s residence. On the night of the killing, telephone records show that Badio was on the phone with several of the suspects, including a former police commissioner who was getting intelligence from one of Moïse’s guards. The ex-cop, Marie Jude Gilbert Dragon, later died in prison after contracting COVID-19 during his imprisonment.

Hours after Moïse’s death, Badio called current Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who at the time had been designated for the post but had not yet been sworn in, leading to questions about whether there was a connection between the two men in the plot.

Henry has categorically denied any involvement in the assassination and said he did not recall speaking to Badio the night of the president’s slaying. Henry said he and Badio had been in communication prior to July 7 because Badio was advising him on how to address Haiti’s ongoing gang problem. Moïse had once considered Badio for the job of interior minister.

In recordings made while in hiding, Badio has attacked Henry and issued threats against journalists, human rights advocates and police. He was believed to have been under the protection of one of the country’s more powerful gang leaders, Vitelhomme Innocent, and moved around with policemen as his bodyguards.

Badio’s arrest is a major breakthrough for the investigation into Moïse’s death, which is currently on its fifth investigative judge.

The case has picked up momentum in the U.S. where several suspects are awaiting sentencing and a trial is scheduled for next year.

Earlier this month, former Haiti Sen. Joseph Joël John, who had been detained in Jamaica before being brought to Miami last year, pleaded guilty in Miami federal court to conspiracy charges in the killing of Haiti’s leader.

John acknowledged to FBI agents that he had met with some co-conspirators just before they “embarked on the mission to kill President Moïse” at his suburban home outside Port-au-Prince, according to court records.

John also attended meetings in South Florida and Haiti with key suspects and tried to acquire weapons and ammunition for them, according to his signed factual statement and other court records. He’s believed to have been a link between the various groups. On the night of the killing, he was in communication with several main suspects.

John, 52, admitted that he helped obtain rental vehicles, made introductions to Haitian gang members and tried to get firearms for the co-conspirators’ operation targeting the president, according to a statement filed with his plea agreement.

Joseph’s goal was to become the prime minister under Moïse’s successor following the leader’s removal from office.

John pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support in the assassination, providing that support, and conspiring to kill or kidnap a person outside the United States. He faces up to life in prison at his sentencing on Dec. 19 before U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez, but he is cooperating with federal prosecutors and could receive a lower sentence down the road.

In addition to John, there are two other defendants who previously pleaded guilty to the murder conspiracy. one is Retired Colombian army officer Germán Alejandro Rivera Garcia, aka “Colonel Mike,” 45, admitted last month that he met with several co-conspirators from Haiti and South Florida before leading a group of former Colombian soldiers to the Haitian president’s home to kill him. Rivera faces up to life in prison at his sentencing later this month

The other is Haitian businessman Rodolphe Jaar, 51, who admitted to providing weapons, lodging and money in the conspiracy to assassinate Haiti’s president. A dual Haitian and Chilean citizen, Jaar was sentenced in June to life in prison but is hoping to get his prison term decreased with cooperation. He had previously been convicted of drug trafficking in the United States.

John, who also goes by the name John Joël Joseph, was transferred in May 2022 to Miami from Jamaica, where he had been jailed on an immigration violation. John served in the Haitian Senate from 2009-15 and worked as a political and security consultant.

According to a Haitian police investigative report, John rented five vehicles for the mission five weeks before the murder plot was carried out. He was joined by gang leader Innocent and a former rebel leader known as “the Torturer,” Miradieu Faustin.

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