Ex-rebel leader known as ‘the torturer’ is arrested in Haiti president’s assassination

A former rebel known as “the torturer,” who has a history of armed insurgency against Haitian leaders, has been arrested in the slaying of President Jovenel Moïse, multiple informed sources told the Miami Herald.

Miradieu Faustin, also an ex-soldier in the Haitian army, was arrested earlier this month along with Divisional Police Inspector Emmanuel Louis, for their alleged involvement in the planning that led to Moïse’s violent death inside a bedroom in his private home on July 7, 2021, in the hills above Port-au-Prince.

The arrests are the first major development in the Haiti case since an initial 44 individuals were taken into custody in the days after the killing. Although the motive for Moïse’s killing remains a mystery, the arrests of the two men and their connections to at least two other key suspects and a powerful gang leader increasingly demonstrate a connection between the killing and Haiti’s armed gangs. Those same gangs reportedly attacked some of the alleged gunmen after the killing.

Among the suspects who remain imprisoned in Haiti, where they still have not been formally charged after 17 months, are a Haitian-American physician and pastor from South Florida accused of masterminding the plot, 18 Colombian nationals and several members of Moïse’s presidential security detail.

A Haitian National Police source told the Herald that investigators are “actively” seeking 11 additional police officers in connection with the murder and that warrants have been issued.

READ MORE: Made in Miami: How a South Florida plot to oust Haiti’s Jovenel Moïse led to his murder

The arrests of Faustin (also known as Faustin Miradieu and Faustin Mesadieu) and Louis are part of the ongoing inquiry by investigative judge Walther Wesser Voltaire. Appointed in May, Voltaire is the fifth judge assigned to the Haitian inquiry, which has been stymied by a high turnover of judges.

Both men have been in custody for several days and police are questioning them to better understand their alleged roles and connections to the others linked to the killing. One suspect, Marie Jude Gilbert Dragon, was a former Haitian police commissioner and rebel leader who played a key role in a 2004 presidential coup that also involved Faustin. Dragon died last year of COVID-related illness.

Faustin has been on the Haitian political scene since Gen. Prosper Avril took power in Haiti in a 1988 military coup following the departure of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier two years earlier.

Miradieu Faustin
Miradieu Faustin

Under the army general-turned-president, Faustin would rise in rank and power as Avril’s security chief, and be among those accused of torturing democracy activists. In recent years, Faustin was head of security for a commercial enterprise and also an agent in the Protected Areas Surveillance Brigade, or BSAP, an environmental corps accused of operating as a militia.

Louis, meanwhile, was assigned to the police station in Port-au-Prince’s Delmas neighborhood. The source said a search of Louis’ home revealed three weapons permits belonging to former Sen. John Joël Joseph, allegedly a key figure in the planning for the operation. According to police, two weeks before the assassination Louis accompanied Joseph and Vitelhomme Innocent, a powerful gang leader, to rent five vehicles connected to the mission.

Joseph, a well-known opposition politician, has admitted to U.S. investigators, who are conducting a parallel investigation, having helped obtain the vehicles and having tried to acquire firearms for the operation. He also admitted to FBI agents in an interview that he met with certain co-conspirators just before they “embarked on the mission to kill President Moïse,” according to a U.S criminal complaint affidavit.

Joseph has pleaded not guilty and is currently in federal custody in Miami, along with two other jailed suspects, Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, a retired Colombian solider, and Rodolphe Jaar, a Haitian businessman and convicted drug trafficker. Those three suspects are currently awaiting trial in federal court on charges that they conspired to kill Moïse, 53. They were transferred to the United States after fleeing to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, where they were arrested.

READ MORE: How money, drugs and a foreign embassy played parts in the murder of Haiti’s president

Haitian police allege that a hit squad made up of former Colombian soldiers and two Haitian Americans from South Florida stormed the president’s home under the cover of darkness and killed him. Moïse was shot 12 times and tortured, and died at the scene. His wife, former first lady Martine Moïse, was seriously wounded, while the couple’s two children were left unharmed after hiding in a bathroom.

Among those jailed shortly thereafter were the coordinator of the president’s security detail, Jean Laguel Civil, accused of bribing cops not to show up for work or to stand down during the armed attack, and the head of the palace guards, Dimitri Hérard. They are among several Haiti National Police officers who have been jailed and who, according to a 124-page investigative report first obtained by the Herald, showed “no intention of defending” Moïse during the attack.

Earlier this month, the police internal affairs unit recommended that several officers accused in the attack or assigned to the detail be fired or disciplined.

READ MORE: Made in Miami: A who’s who in Haiti president’s killing and how they’re interconnected

Faustin is close to former government consultant Joseph Félix Badio, another key suspect in the assassination who served as best man at Faustin’s wedding. Badio is a fugitive. On Wednesday, an audio in which the speaker professed to be Badio was circulated on social media. It was the second such audio in recent weeks

The Herald could not independently confirm that the voice was that of Badio, but sources familiar with him said it was. In the audio clip, he indicated he was moving freely around Port-au-Prince but that he was also a marked man, a target for being killed. Others are involved in the assassination, the speaker said, as he also spoke of the afterlife and the supernatural and taunted police while questioning some of their allegations.

“Up to now, no one has carried out an investigation,” the voice said. “I’ve asked the judge to question me, why hasn’t he called me? I am available. Give me an audience.”

In addition to Badio, Faustin is also believed to be an associate of Innocent, who was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for his alleged role in the kidnapping of 16 American missionaries last year on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and is currently the subject of a $1 million U.S. reward seeking information leading to his arrest.

Innocent, according to the FBI, is the leader of the gang Kraze Barye, which has taken control of an area not far from the U.S. Embassy in Tabarre, a Port-au-Prince neighborhood. The gang’s territory includes the National Police Academy, whose director, Commissioner Harington Rigaud, was killed on Nov. 25 in an attack. Some have speculated that Innocent may be harboring Badio.

While police have not revealed much about the involvement of Faustin, the ex-soldier’s reputation is well-known in Haitian political and international human rights circles.

Suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse, among them Haitian-American citizens James Solages, left, and Joseph Vincent, second left, are shown to the media at the General Direction of the police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, July 8, 2021. Moïse was assassinated in an attack on his private residence early Wednesday.
Suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse, among them Haitian-American citizens James Solages, left, and Joseph Vincent, second left, are shown to the media at the General Direction of the police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, July 8, 2021. Moïse was assassinated in an attack on his private residence early Wednesday.

In 2004 Faustin was among a group of disgruntled former Haiti National Police and army soldiers who led a bloody coup against then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which sent the president fleeing into exile.

In an interview, Faustin said he commanded 50 men who had been in Port-au-Prince for two weeks participating in an armed insurgency that began on Feb. 5, 2004.

The bloody revolt was headed by Guy Philippe, a former high-ranking Haitian police officer and paramilitary coup leader who is currently in federal prison in the United States after being sentenced in a Miami federal court to 108 months. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money from drug trafficking.

Philippe was preparing to take office as a senator in the Haitian Parliament when he was arrested in Port-au-Prince after eluding U.S. drug agents for over a decade. His political party is the Platform of the National Consortium of Haitian Political Parties. The party’s leader, Jeantel Joseph, heads the environmental corps that Faustin worked for at the time of his recent arrest.

READ MORE: History of Haiti: From rebellious beginnings, Haiti has been beset by violence, meddling

Faustin is a former sublieutenant in the Armed Forces of Haiti, and was identified in an Organization of American States human rights report as having tortured political opponents, which gained him the nickname “the torturer.”

Among Faustin’s many acts of alleged cruelty was a Nov. 1, 1989, incident under the Avril government that was documented by the OAS’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The incident involved Evans Paul and two other political opposition leaders. The opposition leaders were jailed and beaten over several days after appearing on television calling for nonviolent protests against the Avril government. Paul, who in 2014 would become prime minister in President Michel Martelly’s administration, suffered five broken ribs and a crushed hip during the beating.

Avril would be forced out of power in 1990 and move to Florida, where Paul and others would eventually file a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against him in U.S. courts, accusing the former president of gross human rights violations.

Two years after the Paul beating, Faustin, by his own admission, was involved in the 1991 military coup against Aristide, a Salesian priest who won election by a landslide and was just eight months into his presidency. Aristide was restored three years later under the protection of more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers.

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