Haitian-born Florida resident arrested as latest suspect in president's assassination

Christian Emmanuel Sanon allegedly flew to Haiti on a private jet in early June.

July 13, 2021, 10:47 AM

LONDON -- More than two dozen people, mostly foreigners, have been accused of playing a role in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise last week. Now, authorities have arrested a Haitian-born Florida resident who they say acted as a middleman between the alleged assassins and the unnamed masterminds.

The man, identified as 63-year-old Christian Emmanuel Sanon, was accompanied by several of the suspected assailants when he allegedly flew to the Caribbean island nation on a private jet in early June, according to Leon Charles, head of the Haitian National Police. Sanon had allegedly hired the Colombian nationals through a Florida-based Venezuelan security firm to protect him and his business. But they later received a new mission: Arrest the president of Haiti, according to Charles.

"The operation started from there," the police chief said during a press conference Sunday, adding that several more men joined the group before they stormed Moise's home in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, at around 1 a.m. local time on July 7.

The 53-year-old head of state was shot and killed while his wife, Martine Moise, was wounded. She has since been transferred to a Florida hospital for treatment and underwent surgery on Saturday, according to Haitian interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

It's unclear how the alleged assassins were able to gain access to the private presidential residence. Haitian ambassador to the U.S. Bocchit Edmond told ABC News on Friday that the group proclaimed to be agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration -- something which the Haitian and U.S. governments both have denied. However, Edmond said it's "obvious" that the group had "some internal help," too. He described them as "international mercenaries."

Haiti's police chief said 26 Colombian nationals are suspected of having a hand in killing Moise. So far, 18 of them have been arrested along with at least three U.S. citizens and three Haitian nationals, including Sanon. Three of the Colombian suspects have been killed while five are still at large, according to Charles.

The Haitian National Police has identified one of the wanted suspects as Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, describing him as "very dangerous."

PHOTO: Leon Charles, head of the Haitian National Police, speaks during a press conference in Port-au Prince, Haiti, on July 11, 2021.
Leon Charles, head of the Haitian National Police, speaks during a press conference in Port-au Prince, Haiti, on July 11, 2021.
Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP via Getty Images

The DEA said one of the suspects had "at times" been a confidential source, though the agency declined to specify which one.

"Following the assassination of President Moise, the suspect reached out to his contacts at the DEA," the agency told ABC News in a statement on Monday night. "A DEA official assigned to Haiti urged the suspect to surrender to local authorities and, along with a U.S. State Department official, provided information to the Haitian government that assisted in the surrender and arrest of the suspect and one other individual."

The DEA also said it is "aware" of reports that the assassins yelled out the agency's acronym but that "these individuals were not acting on behalf of DEA."

While searching Sanon's house in Haiti, authorities discovered a hat with the "DEA" logo, 20 boxes of bullets, various gun parts, four automobile license plates from the Dominican Republic, two cars and correspondence with unidentified individuals. Charles said Sanon came to the country with "political objectives."

In a video posted to YouTube in 2011, Sanon identifies himself as a doctor and accuses Haiti's leaders of corruption, saying that "they don’t care about the country, they don’t care about the people."

"Nine million people can't be in poverty when we have so much resources in the country," Sanon said. "We can't take it anymore. We need new leadership that will change the way of life."

ABC News was unable to verify that Sanon is a licensed physician. However, court records show that Sanon has lived in Florida, most recently in Boynton Beach, and filed for bankruptcy in 2013. In the bankruptcy filing, Sanon lists his occupation as "physician/director" of a foundation based in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Public records indicate that Sanon has also lived in Missouri.

U.S. citizens James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55, are also among the detained suspects in Haiti, according to authorities. Haitian Judge Clement Noel, who is close to the case, told ABC News on Friday that he has interviewed both men. They claimed to be working as translators for the group and denied being mercenaries, according to Noel. Solages said he found the job on the internet and that they were supposed to arrest Moise rather than kill him, Noel told ABC News.

Public records show Solages, who is reportedly of Haitian descent, has lived in South Florida and co-runs a charity called FWA SA A Jacmel Avan, which was registered in 2019 in Tamarac, Florida. The nonprofit is focused on ending childhood hunger and improving education in Haiti, according to its website. A biography of Solages on the website describes him as a "certified diplomatic agent" who previously worked as a bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. ABC News could not independently verify those claims.

Solages is also the CEO of a Fort Lauderdale-area business called EJS Maintenance & Repair, which was formed in 2019, according to state records.

PHOTO: Haitian President Jovenel Moise speaks during the swearing-in ceremony for Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Feb. 24, 2017.
Haitian President Jovenel Moise speaks during the swearing-in ceremony for Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Feb. 24, 2017. Moise was assassinated at his private residence in Haiti's capital on July 7, 2021.
Pierre Michel Jean/AFP via Getty Images, File

Meanwhile, court records show Vincent was born in Port-au-Prince but has lived in South Florida, including in Miami. He was charged with grand theft auto and passport fraud in the United States in the 1990s. He pleaded guilty to the latter charge in 1999 and a federal judge sentenced him to two years of probation. It was unclear from court records how the other charge, occurring in 1995, was resolved.

The U.S. Department of State is "aware" that three Americans have been detained in Haiti as part of the country's ongoing investigation into Moise's assassination, spokesperson Ned Price told reporters Monday.

"We continue to monitor the situation closely," Price added. "As in all cases, we'll provide appropriate consular services to detained U.S. citizens. Obviously, privacy considerations preclude us from saying much more."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Monday that his office remains "in close consultations" with Haitian authorities, including to "determine how the United States can best support Haiti in a very difficult time." However, Price said the immediate focus is on investigative assistance, while officials review longer-term requests for aid.

The Haitian government requested that the United States send troops in the wake of the president's assassination to help stabilize the turbulent, impoverished country and secure its critical infrastructure, such as oil reserves and the international airport. Instead, the U.S. government agreed to send senior officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to assist with the probe, according to the White House.

Michel Dessources, a spokesperson for the Haitian prime minister's office, told ABC News on Sunday that the U.S. officials have arrived in Haiti.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Monday that it "is assisting the Haitian National Police in the investigation" and "will also investigate whether there were any violations of U.S. criminal law in connection with this matter."

In an interview with ABC News on Friday, Haiti's interim prime minister said Moise was tortured before he was killed and that authorities believe they "have the right people" in custody.

"Mercenaries came to the president's house, they tortured him and they killed him," Joseph told ABC News. "We staunchly believe that justice will be provided to the President Jovenel Moise."

PHOTO: An aerial view shows people buying goods in a street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 10, 2021, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
An aerial view shows people buying goods in a street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 10, 2021, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters

Haiti's line of succession remains unclear. But Joseph, who has declared a "state of siege" and is currently in charge with help from the country's military and the national police force, has indicated that he would only take control temporarily until a new president is elected. The international community has called on Haiti to go ahead with presidential and legislative elections slated for later this year.

Moise's political opponents had argued that his five-year presidential term ended in February, while the late president said he had one more year left because the disputed 2016 election delayed his inauguration until 2017.

Moise had been governing by decree since January 2020, after the country failed to hold legislative elections and the legislature's mandate expired. Opposition leaders accused him of wanting to return Haiti to a dictatorship.

Earlier this year, Moise ordered the retirement of three supreme court judges and the arrest of nearly two dozen people, including prominent officials, who he alleged were plotting a coup. Violent protests against Moise erupted, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency in parts of the country in March.

The growing constitutional crisis along with economic woes, escalating gang violence and a deadly COVID-19 outbreak have undermined efforts to rebuild Haiti from a devastating earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Moise had told a Spanish-language newspaper in January that he feared people wanted to kill him. But Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., told reporters last week that there was "no warning" ahead of the pre-dawn attack.

ABC News' Malka Abramoff, Luke Barr, Aicha El Hammar Castano, Guy Davies, Linsey Davis, Conor Finnegan, Justin Gomez, Sarah Kolinovsky, Alexander Mallin, Kathryn McQuade, Victoria Moll-Ramirez, Marcus Moore, Kirit Radia and Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

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