U.S. Arrests Four More in the Assassination of Haiti’s President

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Federal agents arrested four men linked to the assassination of Haiti’s former president, U.S. prosecutors said on Tuesday, the latest step in an investigation that has implicated several American citizens.

Among those indicted by a federal grand jury and detained were Antonio Intriago, a Venezuelan American, and Arcángel Pretel Ortiz, a Colombian living in the United States, the owners of a South Florida security company tied to the plot to murder the former Haitian leader.

At the time of the assassination, Mr. Pretel was an F.B.I. informant, but the agency terminated its relationship with him after the murder, according to a criminal complaint. The Miami Herald first reported that Mr. Pretel had been an F.B.I. informant.

Mr. Pretel and Mr. Intriago’s company, CTU Security, based in Doral, Florida, recruited some 20 former Colombian soldiers who helped storm the home of the Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, the night of his assassination in July 2021. Lawyers for Mr. Intriago previously admitted that CTU recruited the men.

“I can confirm that Intriago was arrested this morning and has been in Miami for the course of the investigation,” Joseph Tesmond, Mr. Intriago’s lawyer, said. “He intends to enter a not guilty plea at his bond hearing this afternoon.”

The two other men arrested were Walter Veintemilla, a financier living in Florida, and Frederick Bergmann, who is accused of helping to finance the operation and is based in Tampa — both are American citizens.

Mr. Veintemilla and his company, Worldwide Capital Lending Group, agreed to lend $175,000 to CTU Security to finance their operations in Haiti, according to the Justice Department. Mr. Bergmann is accused of helping to pay for the Colombians’ stay in Haiti and helping to ship bulletproof vests to Haiti, which were sent with falsified export documents.

On July 7, 2021, assailants entered Mr. Moïse’s home outside Port-au-Prince and shot him 12 times, leaving him dead and wounding his wife. The murder accelerated Haiti’s spiral into unchecked violence, as gangs stepped in to to fill the power vacuum and now control most of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital.

“This was both a human tragedy and an assault on core democratic principles,” Matthew G. Olsen, assistant U.S. attorney, said at the news conference on Tuesday.

While about two dozen suspects have been arrested in Haiti and Miami, authorities in both countries have struggled to identify the plot’s masterminds.

Mr. Intriago released a statement shortly after Mr. Moïse’s murder saying he was unaware of the plans to assassinate the former president.

Initially, the Justice Department said, the plan was to force Mr. Moïse to step down and replace him with a Haitian American pastor named Christian Emmanuel Sanon.

CTU Security recruited the Colombian mercenaries and got funding from Mr. Veintemilla to finance the operation to depose Mr. Moïse.

“There’s no elegant way to to do that,” said U.S. attorney Markenzy Lapointe at a news conference. “You are going to show up with weapons, show up with ballistic weapons, show up with ski masks, I think you can expect someone is going to get hurt.”

CTU expected to receive “lucrative contracts,” from Mr. Sanon once he became president, the Justice Department said, including “infrastructure projects in Haiti, the provision of security forces, and the provision of military type equipment in Haiti.” Mr. Veintemilla also hoped to benefit financially from Mr. Sanon taking power.

But just a few weeks before the assassination, the plan changed and Mr. Sanon was no longer seen as a viable candidate to lead the country: For one, he lived in South Florida and did not meet residency requirements.

The plot then morphed from a plan to arrest Mr. Moïse to assassinating him, according to the Justice Department.

Before the president’s murder, Parnell Duverger, a retired adjunct economics professor at Broward College in South Florida, attended about 10 meetings in person and via Zoom with several of the men now facing charges in connection with the assassination.

Mr. Duverger said they discussed raising funds to pay to execute a civil engineering plan he had devised, and that there was not a whiff of anything untoward. Dr. Sanon, he said, claimed he was about to be appointed prime minister of Haiti.

“That’s the way politics is done in Haiti, with a lot of murders and back room deals,” he said, adding that he did not believe the men arrested were the true masterminds behind the murder.

“With politics in Haiti, things are done in which what we might call in English ‘a fall guy,’ who bears responsibility if things go wrong,” Mr. Duverger said. “I think these guys are fall guys.”

The South Florida security firm is also accused in another plot to assassinate a political figure, President Luis Alberto Arce Catacora of Bolivia, about a year before Mr. Moïse’s murder.

Representatives from the security firm — including Mr. Pretel — traveled to Bolivia in October 2020, and allegedly plotted with the defense minister to assassinate Mr. Arce and prevent him from winning the election, according to the Bolivian government.

In the United States, the Justice Department has so far charged 11 suspects in connection with Mr. Moïse’s assassination, including four last month.

Three of the four are accused of conspiracy in the killing: James Solages, 37, and Joseph Vincent, 57, who are dual Haitian American citizens; and Germán Alejandro Rivera García, 44, a Colombian accused of leading the group of mercenaries on the ground in Haiti.

The fourth, Dr. Sanon, 65, was charged with counts related to smuggling, though was not charged with conspiracy to commit murder. All four are set to be arraigned and enter pleas on Feb. 15.

The Justice Department had previously charged three others in the assassination, including a Haitian businessman, a former Colombian soldier and a former senator of Haiti.

Nick Madigan contributed reporting.



Source : Nytimes