Chance encounter leads to arrest in Haiti president assassination case | ET REALITY

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A top Haitian police officer was shopping at his local supermarket on a recent weekday when someone caught his eye: the country’s most wanted man.

The official, Ernst Dorfeuille, immediately recognized Joseph Félix Badio, a former military officer who had focused on drug and corruption cases in the Interior and Justice ministries, because he had worked with him.

Now Badio was a fugitive, the subject of an arrest warrant seeking to question him about the key role police say he played in an infamous crime: the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

Dorfeuille called for help, and within minutes, four police officers armed with assault rifles arrived and detained Badio as he was about to leave the supermarket on the outskirts of Haiti’s capital.

Dorfeuille confirmed to the Times details about Badio’s capture that appeared in Haitian media, but declined a more extensive interview.

It remains unclear how Badio, accused by some of the men involved in the murder plot of having given the order to kill Moïse, was able to evade Haitian authorities for more than two years.

When he was detained, Badio was driving a vehicle registered to a Ministry of Justice employee, according to police.

His arrest sparked reactions of joyful astonishment among many Haitians who have become cynical in a country where corruption and impunity are often the norm.

Pierre Espérance, executive director of a leading Haitian human rights organization, said Badio’s seemingly random arrest raised questions about how aggressively he was being searched.

“He was untouchable because he knew too much,” Espérance said.

Moïse was shot dead in his room in the early hours of July 7, 2021, after police said his official residence was attacked by a team of 20 former Colombian soldiers hired by a Miami-area security company.

Two parallel investigations into the murder are underway in Haiti and South Florida. Dozens of people are imprisoned in Haiti, but so far none have been charged.

In Miami, 11 people were charged in federal court in February for their roles in the conspiracy. Three have pleaded guilty, including one of the Colombians, Germán Rivera, who received a life sentence last month. All three were charged with conspiracy to kidnap and kill a person outside the United States.

Badio, who has been described in a detailed Haitian police report as the “orchestra leader” of the plot, has not been charged with the murder. In Haiti, official charges tend to be filed much later in the legal process.

Haitian police said Badio rented two vehicles transporting the president’s assassins, as well as a house on the same street as Moïse’s residence for surveillance.

After his arrest, Mr. Badio appeared briefly before a judge and was then transferred to Haiti’s main prison. Jonas Mezilus, a lawyer representing Badio, said that because his client had not been formally charged, he did not know how he would plead.

A year ago, Badio issued an audio statement to a Haitian media outlet proclaiming his innocence, saying he was being made a “scapegoat” for Moïse’s murder and that he was willing to talk to authorities, including the FBI.

“I’m available today,” he said. “I am a slave of the law.”

U.S. court documents filed as part of the South Florida indictment refer to an unnamed “co-conspirator” who conveyed the order to kill the president.

Some attorneys representing defendants charged in South Florida believe Badio is the co-conspirator in the conspiracy and could ultimately face legal charges in the United States as well. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Badio’s condition.

Since Badio has never been questioned about Moïse’s murder, legal experts say he could provide vital answers to a case that remains shrouded in mystery.

U.S. prosecutors argue that the owners of the Miami-area security company, Unidad Antiterrorista, planned and financed the assassination, seeking to profit from lucrative contracts under a new government. But they have left open questions of whether there were other masterminds in Haiti and what role they may have played in the plot.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry praised Badio’s arrest. “This is a huge step forward in the investigation,” he said in a statement.

But Henry himself has been linked to the murder by Haitian authorities who say phone records show that Badio called Henry several times in the days before and in the hours after Moïse was killed.

Last year, when a judge in the case asked Henry to answer questions about his relationship with Badio, the justice minister fired him and he fled the country. At the time, the judge wrote that there were “sufficient compromising elements” to prosecute Mr. Henry.

Mr Henry has denied any involvement. In response to questions for this article, his spokeswoman said Henry received many phone calls on the day of Moïse’s murder, “but none with Mr. Badio.”

Badio is a former Haitian army officer who worked in strategic communications before entering the civil service. The Times contacted a dozen former and current officials who worked with him, but none would speak on the record.

His father immigrated to New York in the early 1960s, according to a person who worked with Badio in the Haitian government and asked to remain anonymous because he feared for his safety when speaking publicly about Badio.

The young Badio lived briefly in New York and attended Medgar Evers College, part of the City University of New York system. according to their Facebook page. The school confirmed that someone named Joseph Félix Badio studied there from 1992 to 1993, although there was no record of him graduating.

He later bought a four-bedroom house in a residential neighborhood in Rockland County, just north of New York City, where his wife and two children still live, according to phone and property records. A Times reporter visited the house, but no one answered the door.

The person who worked with him said Badio was fascinated with weapons and everything related to security and intelligence. He also seemed resentful of those in power who did not sufficiently recognize his talents, according to several people who had worked with him and followed his career.

“Badio was very well connected not only across the political spectrum, but also security, at a fairly high level,” said Jake Johnston, a Haiti expert at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, who has researched Badio’s record. Badio.

Referring to Badio’s superiors in the Haitian government, Johnston said: “He was also someone these people trusted to handle things. He had a reputation for being someone who was always there to get things done.”

Espérance, director of the human rights group, said he met Badio once a decade ago. He recalled that Badio “spoke about his relationship with US agencies, the FBI and the DEA, but it was never known if it was false or not.”

A State Department spokeswoman confirmed that Badio had attended an anti-gang conference in the United States in 2009.

Two months before Moïse’s murder, Badio was fired from a Justice Ministry anti-corruption unit for accepting $30,000 from a jailed man accused of murdering a well-known local radio station owner, according to a letter from Mr. Badio’s boss. in the ministry, as well as a press release from the ministry.

The transcripts, which point to Mr. Badio’s involvement in the plot, are part of the prosecution’s evidence in the South Florida case and were reviewed by The Times.

In his audio message to the Haitian media outlet, Badio denounced anonymous members of the Haitian government who he claimed had also been involved in the assassination plot.

“If you think you’re going to get away with executing me,” he said, “well, you’re knocking on the wrong door.”

Camille Baker contributed reporting from Rockland County, New York, and Harold Isaac from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

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