He Guarded Haiti’s Slain President. And He Was a Suspect in a Drug Inquiry.


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The commander in cost of guarding the Haitian president’s residence shortly grew to become a suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse final month when his safety staff inexplicably melted away, enabling hit males to enter the residence with little resistance and kill the president in his personal bed room.

But present and former officers say that the commander, Dimitri Hérard, was already a suspect in a separate case that the United States Drug Enforcement Administration has pursued for years: the disappearance of lots of, if not 1000’s, of kilos of cocaine and heroin that had been whisked away by corrupt officers solely hours earlier than legislation enforcement brokers confirmed as much as seize them.

Now, some worldwide officers helping with the investigation into the president’s assassination say they’re analyzing whether or not these legal networks assist clarify the killing. Haitian officers, together with the nation’s prime minister, have acknowledged that the official rationalization introduced in the times after the assassination — that Mr. Moïse was gunned down in an elaborate plot to seize political office — doesn’t totally add up, and that the true motive behind the murder has not been uncovered.

Haiti is a main transit level for medication heading to the United States, and American and United Nations officers say the commerce thrives by an array of politicians, businesspeople and members of legislation enforcement who abuse their energy. Now, present and former officers say that Mr. Hérard has lengthy been a point of interest of the investigation into one of many largest drug trafficking instances the D.E.A. has ever pursued in Haiti.

“The corruption goes up to the top levels,” mentioned Keith McNichols, a former D.E.A. agent who was stationed in Haiti and led the company’s investigation into the lacking drug cargo. “Justice is elusive.”

The sprawling drug case not solely entails Mr. Hérard, but additionally judges and the brother-in-law of a former Haitian president. Officials say the staggering amount of medicine spirited away by officers illustrates the extent to which Haiti has develop into a narco-state — with Haitian politicians, members of the judiciary and even American officers in the D.E.A. enabling corruption for years.

When a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship known as the MV Manzanares docked at a privately owned seaport in Haiti’s capital in April 2015, officers say that longshoremen started offloading what they thought had been baggage filled with sugar — till one ripped open, revealing the dear, illicit items inside.

Fights broke out among the many longshoremen as they stole what they may of the big stash of cocaine and heroin, officers say. Security guards fired into the air to cease the looting, with the ruckus alerting Mr. McNichols and the Haitian anti-narcotics police to the chaos unfolding on the port.

But earlier than they may get there, two Jeeps sped as much as the dock. Men in presidential guard and different police uniforms emerged, and as an alternative of creating arrests, they furiously grabbed baggage of cocaine and heroin, throwing masses into their autos earlier than dashing away, witnesses and officers say.

Shouting instructions to a few of the guards was Mr. Hérard, a member of the presidential safety pressure on the time, in keeping with a witness interviewed by The New York Times and to Mr. McNichols, who arrived about two hours later and began his investigation on the scene.

Witnesses not solely informed him about Mr. Hérard’s actions on the port, but additionally that a lot of the illicit cargo — as a lot as 800 kilograms of cocaine and 300 kilograms of heroin — had already been hauled away. A former United Nations official confirmed that Mr. Hérard had been noticed on the port and accused of deploying members of the presidential guard to ferry the medication off the ship.

In all, about 120 kilograms of cocaine and heroin had been finally recovered throughout a 28-day search by Haiti’s anti-narcotics unit, the D.E.A. and the U.S. Coast Guard. Even the recovered quantity makes it one of many largest drug busts on report in Haiti.

The D.E.A. wouldn’t touch upon its investigation into the fiasco on the port. None of the principle suspects have been arrested, and the case in the end led to a whistle-blower criticism that the company was not doing sufficient to battle drug trafficking in Haiti.

Multiple witnesses have accused Mr. Hérard of working with Charles Saint-Rémy, the brother-in-law of former President Michel Martelly; Bernard Mevs, whose household owns the terminal the place the ship docked; and members of the Acra household, who imported the sugar the ship was carrying, to carry medication into Haiti, in keeping with a present senior American official who labored on the case as effectively.

While the drug raid was first revealed by The Miami Herald, the truth that Mr. Hérard and the previous president’s brother-in-law had been suspects in the investigation has not beforehand been reported.

Mr. Hérard is at the moment in Haitian custody, detained in connection with the assassination. The president’s widow has angrily demanded to know what occurred to the handfuls of guards Mr. Hérard commanded, and why none of them had been killed when assailants stormed her residence on July 7, wounding her and capturing her husband lifeless on the ground beside her.

Mr. Hérard couldn’t be reached for remark in detention, and his lawyer declined to cross on inquiries to his shopper. A spokeswoman for the Haitian National Police denied that the pressure was concerned in narcotics trafficking.

Mr. Saint-Rémy texted “no, no, no” when requested whether or not he had ever taken half in drug trafficking. A member of the Acra household declined to remark. And Mr. Mevs denied any wrongdoing or ever assembly Mr. Hérard, including that he knew Mr. Saint-Rémy solely as an acquaintance.

Mr. Mevs’s lawyer, Joel Hirschhorn, mentioned that the D.E.A. was counting on impoverished Haitians keen to deceive assist a biased investigation.

“It doesn’t take much for someone who is desperate to take the offer of a better life,” he added, “to take the D.E.A. ball and run with it, even if it may be false.”

But the online of corruption in Haiti ran even deeper, Mr. McNichols asserted — all the best way to the D.E.A. itself.

When Mr. McNichols and a second former D.E.A. agent, George Greco, first arrived in Haiti in 2014, they mentioned they seen as a lot as $1.2 million in irregular bills that appeared to allow a senior D.E.A. official to obtain fraudulent reimbursements.

Witnesses had additionally reported seeing the senior D.E.A. official assembly a number of instances with Mr. Saint-Rémy in personal, elevating considerations that the official was tipping off Mr. Saint-Rémy about D.E.A. operations, in keeping with Mr. McNichols and an affidavit by an F.B.I. agent. The D.E.A. prohibits brokers from assembly alone with suspected drug traffickers, to forestall bribery and collusion.

A D.E.A. spokeswoman declined to touch upon the allegations.

Mr. McNichols mentioned he reported the suspicious funds and conferences, solely to be reprimanded by his superiors inside the D.E.A. for urgent the matter.

He and Mr. Greco recounted severe flaws in antidrug efforts in Haiti. Whenever he and Mr. McNichols tried to enter the seaport, they mentioned guards stalled them on the entrance for about half an hour, regardless of their diplomatic license plates. But after they pushed the D.E.A. to do extra to repair the issues, they said they were rebuffed.

“The port is an open sewer,” Mr. Greco mentioned.

Van Williams, one other United Nations anti-narcotics supervisor primarily based in Haiti on the time, agreed.

“There was very little importance placed on the docks, which I found very strange,” Mr. Williams mentioned. “Corruption in Haiti from the top on down is so rampant.”

The issues at Haiti’s seaports persist. With solely two operational sea vessels for 1,100 miles of coast, “maritime law enforcement is a daunting task,” concluded an American authorities report earlier this year. Only 5 individuals have been convicted of drug trafficking in Haiti, and the federal government didn’t classify corruption as a crime till 2014, the report added.

Mr. McNichols mentioned his alarm grew as his investigation deepened. Traffickers informed him that Haiti had develop into a most well-liked transit route for smugglers as a result of the police helped transfer 1000’s of kilos of medicine for them.

What Mr. Hérard could have performed with the illicit cargo taken from the port that day stays unclear. But his job defending Mr. Martelly, the president on the time, and allegations that he labored with Mr. Saint-Rémy — Mr. Martelly’s brother-in-law — had been central factors in the investigation.

Mr. Martelly was practically a 12 months away from ending his presidential time period and getting ready his handpicked successor, a little-known banana exporter named Jovenel Moïse, to take his place.

But Mr. Martelly denied a request from the Haitian judicial police to query Mr. Hérard over his position in the Manzanares case, in keeping with a United Nations official stationed in Haiti on the time. Mr. Martelly declined to remark.

Mr. Hérard emerged once more as a suspect in the assassination of Mr. Moïse. The president’s widow mentioned her husband known as Mr. Hérard as the killers stormed the house, pleading for assist. Phone information and Mr. Hérard’s preliminary testimony additionally confirmed that Mr. Moïse had known as him at 1:39 a.m. on the evening of the killing. But Mr. Hérard and his unit by no means engaged the hit squad on the residence, as an alternative mounting a roadblock a long way away, in keeping with his preliminary police testimony.

Haitian safety officers finally cornered a few of the suspected assailants in a home close to the presidential residence. Officers mentioned they noticed Mr. Hérard talking by phone to the mercenaries and making an attempt to barter their give up, nevertheless it was unclear how Mr. Hérard had obtained their numbers.

Mr. Hérard wasn’t the one particular person in the president’s orbit suspected or convicted of drug trafficking. In March, Lissner Mathieu, a convicted trafficker who offered what the Moïse administration known as “professional services” for the nationwide palace, was arrested in Haiti by the D.E.A. and flown to the United States.

Mr. Mathieu fled to Haiti in 2006 after admitting in court docket that he had smuggled 500 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. When Mr. Mathieu was detained, he was discovered with an entry card to the nationwide palace. A photograph of him on the marketing campaign path with Mr. Moïse later emerged. The president’s workplace later mentioned Mr. Mathieu was not an worker and had an entry badge like many different service suppliers.

As for the medication coming by the seaport, Mr. McNichols and Mr. Greco mentioned that the obstacles, stonewalling and hostility they endured inside the D.E.A. finally led them to go away the company.

They pressed their complaints with the assistance of a group known as the Government Accountability Project, which represents whistleblowers. Last month, the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel, the American authorities arm liable for defending federal staff from political interference, reprimanded the D.E.A. for its dealing with of the Manzanares case and for not doing extra to wash up Haiti’s ports.

“I went through hell, speaking the truth and trying to do the right thing,” mentioned Mr. McNichols.

Anatoly Kurmanaev in Port-au-Prince and Julian Barnes in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.



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