Could the traveling pastor with a history of humanitarian work also have masterminded an intricate murder plot to seize power in Haiti?
Christian Emmanuel Sanon, the latest American citizen to be arrested in connection to the assassination of Haiti’s president, has been accused by authorities of orchestrating a complex multinational hit job in order to realize his own political ambitions.
“He came with the intention to take over as president of the Republic,” Haitian National Police Director General Leon Charles said of Sanon in a press conference on Sunday. He was also the first person one of the alleged men involved in the killing of President Jovenel Moise called after the attack, Charles said.
But Sanon has insisted on his innocence, according to a source close to the investigation who cannot be named because they are not authorized to discuss the affair.
The 63-year-old was arrested over the weekend during a police raid in an otherwise peaceful hilltop neighborhood in the capital Port-au-Prince, according to the source. The houses there are large and gated, and just a stone’s throw away from the residence of acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who currently leads the country.
Inside a sprawling complex whose doors read “International Medical Village,” police found boxes of ammunition and holsters for rifles and pistols, CNN’s source said. According to a police statement, they also found 24 unused shooting targets, a cap labeled “DEA,” and four Dominican Republic license plates. Judicial notices affixed to the property warn that it is now a sealed site amid the ongoing investigation.
Sanon told police that he had no knowledge of the attack on the president and that he hadn’t known the weaponry and other seized materials were in the building, according to the source. He also told police that he was a Christian pastor, and emphasized that the building was neither his home nor his property, the source said.
Police have accused Sanon of recruiting the men who allegedly killed the president. One person who works nearby said they had noticed an uptick in activity during the past month, describing foreigners who were “muscular like bodyguards, wearing camouflage pants” frequently walking back and forth between the apparent medical complex and a house across the street.
But when asked about the 26 Colombians and two other Haitian-Americans who are suspects in the investigation, Sanon emphasized that “he doesn’t know anything at all,” according to the source. “He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know. This is what he said since the day authorities interviewed him.”
Police have not announced any formal charges against Sanon, and it is not yet clear if Sanon has retained legal representation to address the charges. CNN was not able to reach him for comment.
‘Dr. Christian Sanon: Leadership for Haiti’
According to police, Sanon was born in the seaside Haitian village of Marigot, and returned to the Caribbean country in June, on a private plane accompanied by hired guards.
Though little is known about Sanon in the years preceding his arrest, publicly available information indicates he was involved in a range of charitable initiatives.
In the early 2000s, Sanon helped to run medical clinics in Haiti for the Rome Foundation, a now-shuttered Florida-based non-profit that once carried out humanitarian work abroad.
Larry Chadwell, the former president of the organization, told CNN in a brief interview that Sanon went to medical school in the Dominican Republic and was licensed to practice in Haiti but not the United States. A biography of Sanon posted by the Florida Baptist Historical Society says he graduated from the University Eugenio Maria de Hostos in the Dominican Republican.
A person who worked with Sanon in the early 2000s, when Sanon was with the foundation, told CNN that Sanon, a minister, was a convincing speaker who was responsible for pulling in many donations to the organization. “He’s very articulate, very believable,” the person said.
Sanon also spearheaded an initiative within the organization to build a hospital in the Tabarre district, according to the person and Dr. Ludner Confident, a Haitian-born doctor who helped with the organization’s fundraising.
Confident called Sanon a “legitimate humanitarian” and “somebody who was trying to help.”
But Sanon also had bigger ideas for Haiti. Videos posted to a YouTube account under the name of “Dr Christian Sanon” in August 2011, show Sanon saying the country needs “a new leadership that will change the way of life” in the country.
The video, labeled “Dr. Christian Sanon: Leadership for Haiti,” also showed Sanon describing the country’s leadership as corrupt, and appearing to slam then-President Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly as “weak” and “selling his soul.”
The Investigation Continues
With Sanon in custody, three U.S. citizens have now been allegedly linked to the attack. James Solages and Joseph Vincent, both naturalized U.S. citizens originally from Haiti, were detained last week.
Haitian police are currently in pursuit of 10 new local suspects, according to a Haitian government source. In total, at least 39 people have been implicated in the assassination so far.
The official Twitter account of Haitian National Police (PNH) named three of those suspects on Tuesday: Joseph Felix Badio, former Senator John Joel Joseph and Rodolphe Jaar. Each is suspected of murder, attempted murder and armed robbery, according to the police notices, and were described by police as “armed and dangerous.”
Several suspects also worked as U.S. law enforcement informants, according to people briefed on the matter.
At least one of the men arrested in connection to the assassination by Haitian authorities previously worked as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA said in a statement in response to CNN.
“At times, one of the suspects in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise was a confidential source to the DEA,” the DEA said in a statement.
Following the assassination of President Moise, the suspect reached out to his contacts at the DEA. 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 said.
The DEA said it is aware of reports that some assassins yelled “DEA” at the time of their attack. The DEA said in its statement that none of the attackers were operating on behalf of the agency.
Other suspects also had U.S. ties, including working as informants for the FBI, the people briefed on the matter said. The FBI said in response to CNN’s reporting that it doesn’t comment on informants, except to say that it uses “lawful sources to collect intelligence” as part of its investigations.
The United States has sent senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents to assist in the investigation, and State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that the United States is still evaluating requests for assistance from the Haitian government, which has asked for troops to help protect key infrastructure in a country with rampant criminal violence.
“We are evaluating how best we can support the needs of the Haitian government at the moment. As I said, right now much of that focuses on the ongoing investigation into the killing of President Moise,” he said. “In addition to the interagency team, the FBI and DHS have been engaged on the ground as well to determine the investigative assets and the investigative support that Haiti may need on this investigation.”
Asked about the request for security assistance, Price said, “we know in this case there may be needs for protection in the context of critical infrastructure.”
“We’re taking a close look at that as well,” he said Tuesday.
The CNN Wire contributed to this report