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Murderers for hire? What was the role of 21 Colombian former soldiers in the assassination of Haiti's president?

Three are dead, one is missing and 18 are being held in Haiti awaiting their fate. Their families deny that they were the assassins of President Jovenel Moïse, but evidence indicates several of the Colombians entered his residence the night he was murdered. But who sent them? (Leer en español)
14 Sep 2021 – 06:16 PM EDT
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Some of the Colombian security contractors with two Haitian-Americans who worked with them. Crédito: David Maris / Univision

It was during a family gathering in the first week of April, Semana Santa, when Yenni Capador first learned of her brother’s recruitment by a security firm operating in Haiti.

She was visiting the family’s farm in Armenia in the mountainous coffee growing region west of Bogota when her brother, a 40-year-old ex soldier, Duberney Capador, received a un llamado via Whatsapp from a former friend who had served with him in the Colombian military.

"My brother was overjoyed when he got that call, he was eager to leave the country for work," she told Univision News.

"'I got the call,'" he told her. "'They're going to pay very well, they're going to pay us in dollars'," she says he told her.

So began the odyssey of the former Colombian soldiers who traveled to Haiti in June and ended up being accused in the assassination of the country’s president Jovenel Moïse on the night of July 7.

Today, two are dead, one is missing and 18 others sit in the notoriously squalid national penitentiary in Haiti awaiting their fate as an investigation is underway, with mounting concerns as to their physical wellbeing and their legal safeguards.

Despite being held for more than a month, none of the men have been officially charged with a crime and profess their innocence. They have been permitted only limited communication with their wives and other relatives back home.

Nor have the intellectual authors of the plot - or a clear motive - emerged.

Colombia’s government has given mixed reactions to the news, on the one hand expressing concern over the apparent role of its ex soldiers, while also offering support to their families.

Colombian Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez met with the families on Monday and told them "that we will not leave them alone in this process and I pointed out that the situation has been unfair to our country."

She added that the men "will have legal defence and the repatriation of the bodies of their relatives in a few days."

Univision spoke with relatives of eight of the men, as well as Jose Espinosa, a Colombian veteran representing the veterans’ families.

Together, with one voice, they claim they are victims of a “trampa” (trap); and had no part of in the plot to kill the president. Instead, they believe they were unwittingly framed by other assassins who they believe were working with corrupt Haitian politicians and police.

"They were tricked. They are not assassins, they are not mercenaries," said Espinosa.

"Everything seemed fine"

At first, everything seemed fine, said Yenni Capador, who was happy that her brother had found a good paying job at last. "It's a project with good guarantees, under the law with Haiti's welfare in mind," she added.

The company was looking to recruit dozens of former soldiers for a long-term project that could extend for several years, paying $3,000 a month, a good salary for a retired soldier on a pension of $500-$700 a month.

"When you leave the military, you don't leave in the best conditions or the best benefits and recognition, unlike veterans in other countries like the United States," Espinosa said.

The man doing the recruiting was a former Colombian armed forces trainer now living in the United States who went by the name Arcangel Pretel. Univision has learned that was not his real name.

Duberney Capador had worked with him in the 1990s as part of an elite unit, the Bloque de Busqueda, hunting down drug traffickers in the city of Cali.

"My brother was driven by friendship, by loyalty, by the experience of knowing him, by trust," said Capador.

Pretel’s real name is Gabriel Perez, a security expert who trained Colombian soldiers in the 1990s before moving to Florida under his new identity where he helped set up a company in 2019 Counter Terrorist Unit Federal Academy, according to Florida records.

His partner, Antonio ‘Tony’ Intriago, a Venezuelan American is also listed in Florida records as the sole owner of a similar named company CTU Security.


Pretel had close ties to the FBI and allegedly convinced Intriago that the operation had the blessing of the U.S. government, according to Intriago’s lawyers. He may also have been a confidential informant in a Colombian drug case, according to some media reports that Univision was unable to confirm.

Univision was unable to speak to Pretel, or discover if he has legal representation.

'First Flight'

With the help of Capador, a 40-man team was quickly assembled by Pretel. "Two by two they passed on the message that it was going to be a big deal," said Espinosa.

They created three groups, an advance team led by – Capador, Sgt Mauricio Romero and Capt German Rivera - and then an initial large group, dubbed ‘Primero Vuelo’ (First Flight), with others to follow.

In the end, 24 made the journey to Haiti after some others dropped out because of covid-19.

Most of the men left Bogota June 4 on an Avianca flight to the Dominican Republic, before crossing the border by car two days later. Some of men sent photos of their time in Santo Domingo to their families.

If it was a clandestine hit squad “they wouldn't have shown themselves in public,” said Naty Guerrero, the wife of one of the detained soldiers, Carlos Guerrero.

Their days in Haiti were spent exercising and taking language classes at a large house with a swimming pool in the capital, Port-au-Prince. “They were content, they sent photos. They never hid themseves,” said Irene Gomez, the mother of two brothers who were recruited.

Building a “new Haiti”

On June 22, CTU gave the men an outdoor video presentation of the plan, explaining that they would be working with the government to help provide security for a number of investor-backed projects. The company showed videos of two renewable energy projects they could end up protecting, according to audio recorded by one of the former soldiers and forwarded to Univision.

The mission was backed by loans from a big Florida investment firm, Worldwide Capital, which Intriago said was a large conglomerate of 200 companies.

Intriago added that CTU had vast experience working foreign governments and the U.S. Justice Department to help bring international criminals to justice. It had conducted operations around the world, from Iraq and Somalia to Brazil, Intriago said.

But mostly he talked about helping build “a new Haiti” by training the police and providing security for infrastructure projects, from airports to hydroelectric plants. “The investors won’t come here without security,” he said.

At the end of the presentation one Colombian recruit, clearly impressed by what he’d just heard, declared; “We'll put all our professionalism and enthusiasm into this.”

In none of those meetings was there ever any discussion about a violent overthrow of the government, the women say.

“They did security, that's what they knew. It was very clear,” said Naty Guerrero.

The preacher

CTU said it had been hired to provide security protection to a Haitian-American evangelical pastor Christian Sanon who had been preaching for years about the need for a transitional government for Haiti that would root out corruption and restore good governance.

He bragged that the operation was being financed by wealthy backers and the proceeds from the sale of several luxury waterfront properties in Haiti. He told some he was also on a medical mission to build a modern hospital in Haiti.

In reality, the Florida based man had a patchy record of unpaid bills. He agreed to buy a property in the hills above the Haitian capital city where he was staying in a boutique hotel, though he never came up with the down payment, according to the hotel owner.

Univision was unable to contact Sanon or learn if he has retained a lawyer.

At the same time, Sanon was meeting with a group of opposition politicians. Photos show him in a room with a Haitian and U.S. flag, alongside Intriago and a former Senator John Joel Joseph, now under arrest. Also present were Capador and Rivera, the other Colombian soldier, known as ‘Col Mike’, as well as James Solages, a Haitian-American hired to work with the CTU Security team.

There were other meetings, including one gathering at the home of a Haitian security company owner on June 8 where a bizarre plan was discussed, with supposed U.S. government backing, to detain 34 Haitian businessmen and government officials involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.

While Sanon did not attend, the participants included Solages, the former Senator Joseph, a convicted drug trafficker named Rodolphe Jaar, who was released from jail in the U.S. and deported in 2016, and Joseph Badio, a former Justice Ministry official who was fired a few months earlier for alleged corruption. Badio was looking for a security team to help make the arrests.

The participants would get a share of any of the seized assets, he said, according to a legal document provided to Univision. When Badio was unable to produce any arrests warrants the meeting was terminated.

The Sanon plan falls apart

On July 5, Yenny Capador described receiving video of her brother at a barbecue on a patio. “They were happy, grilling meat,” she said.

Her brother complained afterwards he’d eaten too much. His sister mocked him gently; “That's what you get for being a greedy pig," she said.

But the plan had already begun to unravel. The Colombians say they never received their promised pay cheques. Two of the Colombians quit and returned home.

Intriago's lawyers claim that "small payments were made to the Colombian security contractors, as agreed". Intriago also used some of the money to pay for the plane tickets from Colombia.

But Intriago was increasingly concerned about rising bills, which now amounted to some $172,000.

Sanon and Intriago argued over who should pay for the various elements of the project. According to Intriago's lawyers, Sanon failed to make a payment for the Colombians' salary, due July 6.

"I think it's fair to say that Tony was not happy with Sanon," said one of his lawyers, Joseph Tesmond.

On July 3, Sanon and his team were kicked out of their hotel for failing to pay their bill, accompany to the owner.

That night, Sanon reportedly made a frantic call to a trusted friend back in Florida saying he’d been abandoned by his Colombian bodyguards. "My guards asked me for money. I didn’t have any," he told his friend.’ The Miami Herald reported.

Arrest order

But strangely, the mission wasn’t aborted, instead it took a fatal turn.

A few days later, Intriago’s lawyers say he got word that his Colombian security team was being requested to serve an arrest warrant against president Moise for murder.

The lawyers now believe Intriago was “the victim of an elaborate scheme by Haitian individuals to assume power through an agenda and actions that Mr Intriago was unaware of.”

The assassination, and 4 "confessions"

The original plan to provide security for Sanon was apparently abandoned when the Colombians discovered that Sanon had no political supporters in Haiti.

The day before the assassination, Badio allegedly gave the Colombians new orders to kill president Moïse, according to evidence contained in a 122-page Haitian police report, compiled with the help of the FBI and Colombian authorities.

Univision has seen part of the police report and confirmed other key elements with an independent source.

To convince them, they were given information regarding a supposed large stash of cash in the house, some of which they would be allowed to keep as a reward, according to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo which obtained a copy of the report.

Four members of the assassination team have since confessed to authorities about the operation, according to 15 hours of audio interrogations leaked to the Colombian news outlet, Caracol Noticias.

Rivera, or ‘Col Mike,’ told the group "that we had to kill everyone... the police, the president's security, everyone who was inside the house," according to one of the audios revealed by Caracol.

"Mike told us that we had to 'whack' the president," said sub-lieutenant (r) Jheyner Carmona Flórez. They had three tasks: the first was to capture the president, the second was to carry the entire camera system and the third was some suitcases with money, he stated in his 'confession'.

On the day of the attack, the Colombian ex-soldiers received weapons from Jaar, the convicted drug trafficker, according to the recordings.


Caracol's report does not clarify how much money they found and where it went. Nor does it say how Caracol obtained the audios or whether the 'confessions' were legally recorded in the presence of a lawyer.

Instead, the ex-military personnel were handed a fraudulent arrest warrant for Moïse, which they used to justify the operation. Hours later, the warrant was found lying in the street, wet and crumpled.

The police report alleges that the Colombians divided into different groups. Capador and Romero were part of 'Delta,' made up of the six most experienced soldiers, former members of the army's special anti-narcotics command. They were assigned the task of killing the president and seizing the money.

They were accompanied by Badio, four local policemen, and Solages from CTU Security.

They arrived at the president’s residence in the hills above the capital around 1.30 a.m. and stormed the residence in a hail of gunfire. Shockingly, they met little resistance from the president security team, normally numbering 30-40 people.

One member of the security team hid under his vehicle in the courtyard, unable to reach his gun inside. “He couldn’t move. They put down suppressive gunfire. It was intense,” he later told a friend who spoke to Univision.

At 1:34 a.m. Moïse dialed Jean Laguel Civil, the coordinator for presidential security. “Your excellency, what’s happening?” Civil said he asked, in an interview with The Wall St Journal.

“Send reinforcements,” he said Moïse asked. “Come, save me.”

"DEA operation"

Outside, one of the Colombian units kept Haitian police to stay back. In video taken by witnesses someone with an American accent can be heard speaking in English on a megaphone; “Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up.”

Evidence in the police report indicates the speaker was Solages from CTU Security. With him was another Haitian-American, James Vincent, a former Haitian police officer who worked for more than a decade for the DEA as a highly trusted undercover informant, according to his lawyer. The DEA has denied it had any part in the assassination.

Before leaving the residence, one of the Colombians allegedly took a photo on his cellphone of the president lying dead on the floor of his bedroom. An autopsy later showed he had 12 bullet wounds. His wife, Martine Moïse, who witnessed the shooting has said he was gunned down in cold blood. She told The New York Times that she heard the killers speaking Spanish and English.

A few minutes later the assassins allegedly came out of the house carrying bags and boxes of money and left in the vans they came in, according to the police report.

“I'll light a candle for you”

Yenny Capador says the first she knew about what happened was when her brother called her. The hunt for his killers was in full swing in Port-au-Prince.

“He just told me to watch the news. That they were late getting to where they were going and that it wasn't him," she said.

"They had them cornered in a house and the police were shooting at them," she added.

Capador begged his sister not to say anything to their mother, to spare her nerves. “All I could do was pray to God that everything was going to get better. He told me to be calm, that they were going to try to organise a way out," she said.

"I told him 'I'm going to light a little candle of the Virgin del Carmen to watch over you, to protect you," she added.

The last time they spoke it was 5.46 pm in Haiti, an hour later in Bogota. "He told me he was fine. He sent me some little hands (🙌) and from then on I never received any more information from him," she said.

It’s now known that 11 of the Colombians fled to the Taiwanese embassy, where they later surrendered to Haitian police. But mystery surrounds what happened to Capador, who was found dead after an alleged gun battle, along with Romero along with a third Colombian, Miguel Garzon.

The police report says the pair were found with several guns, about 50,000 dollars in cash, as well as some Haitian currency.

Seven other Colombians were arrested at the house, reportedly making no attempt to escape relaxing and seemingly unperturbed the events earlier in the day. Police are still searching for one of the alleged assassins, Mario Palacios, who vanished without trace.

Tainted evidence

The families of the Colombian veterans remain convinced the soldiers were not responsible for the assassination.

They allege that evidence at the scene indicates that the bodies of Capador and Romero were moved before investigators arrived.

"Everything that has come out is under pressure and torture," Espinosa said.

Some of the details of the murder in the Caracol report were "illogical", he insisted. In particular, he said the bullet wounds on the president's body did not appear to be consistent with an automatic blast from a powerful M4 rifle.

Besides, professionals don’t waste bullets on their victims, said Espinosa, pointing out that Romero and Palacios were both had sniper training. “With two shots they would have killed him off,” he said.

Human rights experts warn that the crime scene is so tainted by delays in collecting evidence, as well as death threats against the investigators, that the police reports can’t be trusted. Investigators were not allowed to enter the president’s residence for several hours and not one of the president’s guards were reportedly present when investigators were eventually allowed in.

If the testimonies were recorded without the presence of a lawyer, they could be invalidated as evidence in a future trial.

There are also doubts about the stash of dollars in the house. Except for the money found with the bodies of Capador and Romero, there is no evidence of cash being retrieved from the captured soldiers.

And the first lady, in her two interviews with CNN and The New York Times, did not mention any money either.

On top of that, several judicial clerks involved in the investigation have reported receiving death threats. One was murdered on Wednesday night, found with his throat cut.

Messages

The soldiers' relatives are demanding to be allowed to speak to their husbands. So far all that has been permitted are letters and some voice messages, sent via the Foreign Ministry.

“We requested a phone or video call, or something that could tell us about their real state of health, their physical wellbeing, but it hasn't been possible,” said Naty Guererro.

The letters don’t reveal much information, but bear a consistent message, according to Guerrero. “They're simple. 'We are not assassins, we are not mercenaries,'” she said.

Betrayed

What they have learned of the investigation in the Colombian press so far leaves “more questions than answers," said Guerrero. "All the information is fragmented, it's hidden, it's incognita. This gentleman (Moise) was alone, he didn't have any security for his family," she added.

The Colombians’ employer, CTU Security, agrees. “The security contractors had no part on the death of the president,” the lawyers for Intriago insisted in a press release. When the Colombians entered the residence they found the place ransacked and the president was already dead, they said.

“It is our belief that the president’s own bodyguards betrayed him,” they added.

The lawyers for Intriago say their client has been placed under unwarranted FBI surveillance, and his banks accounts frozen. "He is being followed constantly though he is not facing any criminal charges," his lawyer, Tesmond, told Univision.

Several senior police officers, including Moïse’s own security chief and members of his detail, have been arrested. No explanation has been provided for how the assassins were able to enter the heavily fortified residence so easily.

“Maybe the Colombians were led into a trap, or they were fooled,” said one former Haitian security official who asked not to be identified. “But there is no excuse for them being at the residence that evening. There’s nothing that can justify their presence there,” he said, pointing out that arrest warrants cannot be legally executed in private homes between 6pm and 6am in Haiti.

Sanon was arrested after Moïse's murder and is currently in jail in Haiti, sharing a cell with the other two Americans, Solages and Vincent, according to Regina de Moraes, Vincent's lawyer.

Intriago is cooperating with the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and his law firm said it is reaching out to the Colombian families.

“If my client can help exonerate at least some of the Colombians he’s willing to do that,” Tesmond said.

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