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Charges sought for Haiti premier

But prosecutor fired after request to pursue assassination case by The Associated Press | September 15, 2021 at 4:41 a.m.
FILE - In this July 20, 2021 file photo, Haiti's designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry, center, and interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, right, pose for a group photo with other authorities in front of a portrait of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moise at the National Pantheon Museum during a memorial service for Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haiti’s chief prosecutor has asked a judge to charge Henry in the slaying of his predecessor and barred him from leaving the country. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn, File)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A new chief prosecutor was sworn in Tuesday just hours after his predecessor asked a judge to charge Prime Minister Ariel Henry in the slaying of the president and to bar him from leaving Haiti, a move that stands to further destabilize a country in turmoil after the assassination and a recent major earthquake.

The request by Port-au-Prince prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude, who was fired by Henry, was filed on the same day that he asked that Henry meet with him and explain why a key suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise called him twice just hours after the killing.

"There are enough compromising elements ... to prosecute Henry and ask for his outright indictment," Claude wrote.

A spokesman for Henry could not immediately be reached for comment.

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It wasn't clear if Claude's removal would have any effect on the case, but an analyst noted that the investigation is in the hands of a judge.

It wasn't clear if Claude was officially removed before he made the request to the judge. The Associated Press obtained a letter dated Monday in which Henry told Claude that he was being fired for an undefined "serious administrative fault" and that the decision was effective as soon as he received the document.

Claude did not respond to a request for comment on his firing or when he got the letter.

Claude said the calls were made at 4:03 a.m. and 4:20 a.m. on July 7, adding that evidence shows the suspect, Joseph Badio, was in the vicinity of Moise's home at that time. Badio once worked for Haiti's Ministry of Justice and at the government's anti-corruption unit until he was fired in May over accusations of violating unspecified ethical rules.

In the two-page document, Claude said the calls lasted a total of seven minutes and that Henry was at the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince at the time. He also noted that a government official tweeted last month that Henry told him he never spoke with Badio.

Monday, Justice Minister Rockfeller Vincent ordered the chief of Haiti's national police to boost security for Claude because the prosecutor had received "important and disturbing" threats in the past five days.

Brian Concannon, an adviser for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said he did not expect much to change despite the appointment of a new prosecutor.

"A lot of this is theater," he said.

Concannon noted that the assassination case is in the hands of Judge Garry Orelien and that he can decide whether to pursue an investigation of Henry even if the new prosecutor advises otherwise. He said the judge has three months to determine whether to take action.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian politics expert at the University of Virginia, said there was clearly a power struggle within the government between Henry and those who supported Moise.

"We have a very confusing situation, a power struggle at the moment, and we will see who will win it," he said. "It's not clear where we are going, and it's not clear what the international community thinks about everything."

In recent days, Haiti's ombudsman-like Office of Citizen Protection announced that it was demanding that Henry step down and asked that the international community stop supporting him.

Henry has not specifically addressed the issue in public, although during a meeting Saturday with politicians and civil-society leaders, he said he is committed to helping stabilize Haiti.

"Rest assured that no distraction, no summons or invitation, no maneuver, no threat, no rear-guard combat, no aggression will distract me from my mission," Henry said.

Moise had appointed Henry as prime minister shortly before he was killed at his home in an attack that also seriously wounded his wife, Martine Moise.

More than 40 suspects have been arrested in the case, including 18 former Colombian soldiers. Authorities are still looking for additional suspects, including Badio and a former Haitian senator.

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