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Widow and former PM among those indicted in Haitian president assassination inquiry

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The president of Haiti was assassinated in the middle of the night at home during the summer of 2021. Well, the people formerly accused of conspiring on his murder now include his widow, also the former prime minister of Haiti, also the former national chief of police. The final report from the Haitian judge who has been investigating this case is out, and it indicts some 50 people. Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald has seen this report. She's with us now. Good afternoon.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Hi. Good afternoon.

KELLY: Start with the president's widow, the then-first lady, who was herself injured that night. What does this report specifically accuse her of?

CHARLES: So, yes, as you mentioned, 51 individuals have been indicted by this Haitian judge. And Martine Moise is among a group of individuals who were close allies or former government officials in President Jovenel Moise's administration. And the judge points out a number of things. He points out that a couple of days before the squad of Colombians joined forces to take out the president, she went to the National Palace and spent five hours clearing out her things. He mentions the fact that twice she has refused to go before the judge to give her side of the story. And in fact, there is an arrest warrant for her in Haiti as a result of this.

But he also points out contradictions in which she has said the only interview that she has given with Haitian authorities was a few days after her husband was buried. And in that interview, for example, she mentioned that the accused assassins - that they pulled her toe to see if she was still alive. Well, in a few press reports that she has given, she mentioned a flashlight, which - we at the Miami Herald reported that some of the Colombians who were jailed in this, you know, heavily disputed that. My sources also told me that some of the Colombians - when they met with the judge, they also have questioned the first lady's injuries. You know, who shot her and where and how many times? And they actually wanted a confrontation with her in order to address this issue - these allegations.

KELLY: Yeah. The detail that stuck with me was the fact that the bed that she says she was hiding under was, in fact, too low to the ground for anyone to climb under when they actually looked at it.

CHARLES: Well, you're being kind. He actually says the bed was built in such a way that a fat rat couldn't even get under the bed - was sort of his wording, in French, in this. But, yes, he made a big deal about the fact that this was a platform bed, and no one can hide underneath the bed.

KELLY: And the Colombians you mentioned - this was a squad, a cell that was - that has also been caught up in the indictments on this for having actually carried out the shooting.

CHARLES: Yes. They are being named as co-authors. But, again, you know, with this report, we still don't know who actually fired the fatal blows or which gun killed the president. And that is where their report falls very short because like the parallel investigation in the United States, there are still many questions about, you know, who is the chief mastermind, if there is one? And, again, who fired the fatal blow? - because the Colombians all denied that they were the ones who actually shot and killed the president.

KELLY: I gather the former chief of police actually fares pretty horribly in this indictment as well. What is he accused of?

CHARLES: So yes. So Leon Charles - let me just say Martine, Leon Charles and Claude Joseph, the former prime minister, have all denied any involvement. And they are basically saying that this is, you know, the current government tramping on justice. But Leon Charles - the argument that is raised there is that he was among the people that President Jovenel Moise called in distress, saying, come. Save me. Help me. And there was 18 minutes between when Leon Charles received a call from the president and when the president contacted another one of his security officials and that there was no rapid deployment that was made. Charles did not take himself to the scene. And in his defense, Charles mentioned deploying another top official to the president's aide.

Well, that individual testified that he actually got the call from the president. It was at 1:46, and he had to get off the phone with Charles in order to rush to the president's aide. We actually broke the story on Jovenel Moise's last few minutes, and he was indeed calling a number of his top security officials, including Leon Charles, to come to help him, and nobody arrived in time.

KELLY: What about a motive? Does the report have anything to say on that?

CHARLES: The report doesn't make clear a motive. But what it says in indicting the first lady and people close to the president is that this was a power grab, that the goal here - and it's quoting, you know, certain witnesses and individuals who claim that everyone sort of knew quietly around the president that there was going to be just attempt to arrest him, and they played on to that. Now, there was never any evidence or any announcement that Jovenel Moise was even going to be arrested. But the goal was that Martine Moise would eventually become president, that Claude Joseph, who was the outgoing prime minister at the time because President Moise had already decided that he would choose Ariel Henry, the current Prime Minister, and Claude Joseph would hold on to power and then hold an election in a few months and then Martine Moise would be made president. That is sort of what they allude to here.

But, again, what you see in this indictment - that there are plots and subplots because we don't see anything that says that the former first lady or people around the president who were close to him - that they actually met with any of the 11 defendants who have been charged in the parallel U.S. investigation. We do see some overlap, but you never see where you put them in the room and that there was just one big conspiracy.

KELLY: Plots and subplots, indeed. Have any of the people who stand accused in this indictment - have they responded?

CHARLES: Yes. We quoted Claude Joseph yesterday, who, again, at the time was the prime minister. His quote to us was basically that the current Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, is the main beneficiary. And he even goes out and accuses him of being the mastermind, which, of course, Henry denies. But Claude Joseph is calling this a classic coup d'etat. And he says, they failed to kill me and Martine Moise on July 7, 2021. Now they're using the Haitian justice system to advance their Machiavellian agenda.

KELLY: So where does all this go next? What's the timeline on this going to court?

CHARLES: So under Haitian law, all of these individuals - all 51 of them, including the Colombians - they have a right to appeal this indictment, right? And as the Haitian justice system goes and as Haiti goes - as we know, this is a country right now - it's very volatile, gang-ridden. Things don't work very quickly. And so it can be up until next year where we see some resolution, if you're lucky, on the issue of the appeal. But the fact that the judge has now completed this report after 2 1/2 years and five judges - that is significant. But the stakes are high. The chief justice is supposed to actually set a trial date. But I am not holding my breath, really, that we will be going to trial in a year or two.

KELLY: Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald. Thanks for your reporting.

CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

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