Haiti judge issues arrest warrant for wife of slain president in investigation into his death


Haitian President Jovenel Moïse greets a group of Haitians living in South Florida who welcomed him and his wife, Martine Marie Etienne Joseph (far left), as he makes his first visit to Miami as president during a community meeting at the Little Haiti Cultural Center on Friday, June 16, 2017.

PEDRO PORTAL pportal@miamiherald.com A Haiti investigative judge has issued an arrest warrant for the widow of former President Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated in his bedroom in the middle of the night nearly three years ago. Judge Walther Wesser Voltaire, the Haitian magistrate charged with overseeing the investigation into Moïse’s July 7, 2021 slaying, ordered the arrest of Martine Moïse, who was with her husband inside their private residence with their two children when the assassins broke in and shot him to death.

Martine Moïse, who survived the attack, was flown by air ambulance to South Florida and treated at Jackson Memorial Hospital before returning to Port-au-Prince with her arm in a sling. Although she initially answered questions from Haitian authorities, Moïse has since refused to cooperate with the investigation. The former first lady declined a request to appear before Voltaire, who wants to question her about the attack, and instead demanded his dismissal. The arrest warrant is for failing to appear before the investigative judge. The warrant makes no mention of any potential involvement by Moïse in her husband’s death.

The warrant was actually issued months ago and sent to Haitian police, but they have unable to make an arrest because Moïse has not been in in Haiti. Its existence, however, was finally made public on Monday when a copy was leaked on Haitian social media. The timing of the leak coincides with the expiration of Voltaire’s three-year mandate as an investigative judge and amid ongoing questions about who is likely to be charged in the slaying of the Haitian president.

Several sources told the Miami Herald that Voltaire has informed justice officials that he’s ready to issue formal charges in the long-running investigation, but will need more time. However, he’s run into obstructions, one knowledgeable source said, and with his mandate expiring on Friday, it is unclear if or when his term will be renewed. Until then, he cannot work on the case and the investigation remains stalled. Jovenel Moïse was shot a dozen times in his bedroom after a group of former Colombian soldiers, joined by Haitian police and two Haitian Americans, stormed his residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince. The attack was made to seem as if it were a raid by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which denied any involvement in the presidential slaying. Despite dozens of arrests and an ongoing U.S. investigation, the motive for the killing and who ordered it remain mysteries.

In June, his widow filed a lawsuit in Florida against 11 suspects currently charged in the U.S. criminal case, seeking unspecified damages for the family. The Herald reached out to Moïse’s attorney in the civil lawsuit, but did not hear back by publication time. The suit, filed in Miami Dade Circuit Court, has not yet been heard. In a separate proceeding, federal prosecutors are trying to get suspects jailed in Miami to pay for the former first lady’s medical expenses — even though documents obtained by the Herald show the Haitian government took care of the bill. For months, U.S. authorities have delayed a hearing over any restitution payments to Moïse by Rodolphe Jaar, a Haitian-Chilean businessman who admitted to providing weapons, lodging and money in the conspiracy to assassinate Haiti’s president.

A restitution hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 16. Jaar has been sentenced to life in prison but is hoping to get his prison term reduced by cooperating with prosecutors. He had previously been convicted of drug trafficking in the United States. There are two ongoing parallel investigations into Moïse’s killing, which have resulted in four suspects already pleading guilty in the United States. After months of slow progress, the Haiti investigation began picking up steam late last year as Voltaire, the fifth investigative judge assigned to the case, began looking more closely at people in the former president’s inner circle, and ordering a new crop of suspects to appear before him. A breakthrough in the case came with the surprise arrest in October of a former government official, Joseph Félix Badio, who had been on the lam since the killing. The following month, Voltaire ordered the arrest of the mayor of a seaside Haitian beach town after questioning him in his chambers. The mayor, Marky Kessa, had met with several of the suspects in South Florida. Kessa, mayor of the city of Jacmel, allegedly admitted to knowing that a plot against the president was brewing but he did not inform authorities. Kessa is the one who introduced Haitian-American suspects James Solages and Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a South Florida pastor.

U.S. authorities believe Sanon’s political ambitions and desire to replace Moïse as president led to the Haitian leader’s death. Among those who have testified in the investigation are 17 Colombians implicated in the killing and jailed in Port-au-Prince. After refusing to appear before a judge, they finally agreed to speak to Voltaire. A source familiar with the Colombians’ testimonies told the Herald they continued to maintain their innocence — and demanded a face-to-face confrontation with Martine Moïse to ask her who shot her, and where exactly she was shot.

The former first lady has given only a few interviews since her husband’s killing. But in one with France 24, she accused “the present government” of being involved and insisted that “the truth will come out.” There have been ongoing questions, however, about some of the statements she has made about the night the president was killed. One point of contention: reports that Martine Moïse survived by hiding underneath a bed. In April, FBI agents visited the president’s private residence in the Pelerin 5 neighborhood accompanied by Voltaire. They toured the murder scene where the bedroom floor was still stained with blood — and saw that the bed was not high enough off the floor to allow anyone to hide underneath.

Moïse is believed to be living in South Florida awaiting a decision by U.S. immigration authorities on whether she can extend her stay. She was visiting on a travel visa that has since expired. Miami Herald reporter Jay Weaver contributed to this story. This story was originally published January 29, 2024, 7:33 PM. JACQUELINE CHARLES


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