Haitian-American doctor Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, was named by Haiti's National Police chief late Sunday as the mastermind behind the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
Charles told reporters Sanon arrived in Haiti on a private plane in early June along with some of the Colombian gunmen arrested in connection with last week’s murder. Sanon is one of three Haitian-Americans currently in police custody.
Moïse was shot to death at his home in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, early Wednesday, July 7. His wife, Martine Moïse, was seriously wounded in the attack and taken to Miami, Florida for treatment.
The police chief said information that led to the arrest was garnered during interviews with Colombian suspects, who spoke to investigators through an interpreter.
"That information led us to the home of the individual," Charles told reporters during a Sunday night press conference in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. "His intentions were political. He contacted an investigation firm (CTU) specializing in security to recruit some of the assailants we spoke about earlier today. He arrived in Haiti in early June accompanied by some of these assailants who were supposed to provide security for his business and himself as president of the republic. The assailants' first mission was to provide security for Emmanuel Sanon but the mission later changed."
The police chief said one of the assailants was given an arrest warrant for President Jovenel Moise. He said a copy of the arrest warrant has been posted on social media. He did not elaborate on the authenticity of the document, nor who signed it. Twenty-two other gunmen later joined the group and established contact with Haitians the police chief did not identify by name.
Charles said Sanon was in contact with a Venezuelan security firm, Counter Terrorist Unit Federal Academy LLC. (CTU), based in Miami.
According to the police chief, when police blocked the assailants' exit points, the first person they called was Sanon.
"He (Sanon) subsequently contacted two other individuals who are implicated, who we recognize - and we will provide more information about that later - as the masterminds of the assassination plot," Charles said.
Police seized weapons, munitions, a Dominican Republic vehicle registration, two vehicles and documents addressed to various sectors of the population, Charles told reporters.
"The investigation has reached a very advanced stage," Charles said. "We have identified 26 Colombians who were part of the commando force that attacked the president's home."
Charles said police have arrested 18 Colombians and 3 Haitians in connection with the attack, and that at least five other people were believed to still be at large.
Interim prime minister Claude Joseph talked about motive during a Sunday night press conference in Port-au-Prince.
"There were several steps to this assassination plot," Joseph told reporters. "First they were to kill the president then incite the public to take to the streets and go on a rampage killing people and destroying property. However, from day one, the people heeded our call to remain calm and I thank them for doing that."
The prime minister thanked citizens who helped police find and arrest the assailants.
Joseph told reporters he is grateful for support and well wishes from foreign leaders and government officials including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Caribbean leaders, Turkey's president and foreign minister and the foreign minister of Spain.
First lady’s health status
Joseph said he had several phone conversations over the weekend with first lady Martine Moise, who is being treated for injuries she sustained during the attack that killed her husband.
"The president's wife underwent surgery yesterday (Saturday) and she is doing well. We spoke (on the phone) several times yesterday. I was honored to be one of the first people she called after coming out of surgery," Joseph told reporters.
An audio message posted on the first lady's official Twitter account on July 10, discusses her husband's killing.
"I'm alive thank God but I lost my husband, Jovenel. We spent 25 years together, 25 years of love and family life. In the blink of an eye mercenaries entered our home and shot my husband to death. I always knew I would have to share my husband when he decided to enter politics. This brazen assassination saddens me, my children and the people of Haiti as well. This is a shameless act by criminals who didn't even allow him to say anything to defend himself," Mrs. Moise said. "You know who the president was fighting against. They sent mercenaries to kill him inside his home along with his family members."
Some have questioned the authenticity of the message, which went viral on social media shortly after it was posted.
Prime Minister Joseph said the first lady's primary concern is also his top priority.
"My primary concern as prime minister is the investigation into the president's assassination and finding justice for his family, his children, friends and allies and the people of Haiti," Joseph said.
He also said president Moise was tortured before his death.
"A president should not die under these conditions - tortured, humiliated and tragically killed," Joseph said. Unverified photos sent to VOA Creole of Moise's body after the assassination showed him missing an eye.
US delegation arrives in Haiti
A team of U.S. officials from the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, State Department and the National Security Council arrived in Haiti Sunday, the White House announced, to assist with the murder investigation. The assistance is in response to a request made by Haiti.
"The delegation reviewed the security of critical infrastructure with Haitian government officials and met with the Haitian National Police, who are leading the investigation into the assassination," NSC spokesperson Emily Horne said Monday in a statement emailed to VOA. Horne said the delegation also met with Haitian government officials.
"The delegation also met with Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph and Prime Minister-Designate Ariel Henry in a joint meeting, as well as Senate President Joseph Lambert, to encourage open and constructive dialogue to reach a political accord that can enable the country to hold free and fair elections," the statement said. "In all their meetings the delegation committed to supporting the Haitian government as it seeks justice in this case and affirmed the United States’ support for the people of Haiti in this challenging time. The United States stands with Haiti in becoming a safer, more democratic country."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation told VOA in an emailed statement that "The FBI is currently engaging with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and our law enforcement partners to determine how we can best support this effort.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Jenn Psaki said Monday that Haiti’s request for the U.S. to send troops to quell sporadic violence linked to the assassination is still under review.
Biden administration officials have said the U.S. would also consult with its regional partners on the Haitian turmoil and the United Nations.
Appeal for calm
Prime Minister Joseph has reiterated his call for calm and his commitment to bringing those responsible for Moise's murder to justice.
"Stay calm, we are doing everything we can to bring the president's killers to justice," Joseph said. "A murder like this cannot remain unpunished." He called on all political actors to join him in the search for justice.
Haiti is currently under a state of siege, declared shortly after President Moise was assassinated. It will last 15 days according to an official decree. The country's airports and border with the Dominican Republic remain closed until further notice.
White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman and Masood Farivar in Washington contributed to this report