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Former Tampa Bay man accused of key role in killing of Haitian president

Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor, lived in Brandon for more than a decade. Now he’s accused of playing a key role in an assassination.
Supporters of former Senator Youri Latortue and Steven Benoit set tires on fire outside the court house in Port-au-Prince on Monday.
Supporters of former Senator Youri Latortue and Steven Benoit set tires on fire outside the court house in Port-au-Prince on Monday. [ JOSEPH ODELYN | AP ]
Published Jul. 12

BRANDON — A Haitian doctor who lived for more than a decade in the Tampa Bay area is accused of playing a key role in the assassination last week of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

Haitian police on Sunday announced the arrest of Christian Emmanuel Sanon, deepening the already convoluted mystery around the killing and expanding its ties to Florida.

Sanon is not a licensed physician in the United States, according to public records, but he has long practiced in Haiti, former neighbors in Brandon’s Timber Pond neighborhood told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday. He lived there with his wife and three children, in a home on Belladonna Drive, from 2002 until 2013, though he was often gone for work, his neighbors said.

The home went into foreclosure in 2013, records show, and Sanon and his wife filed for bankruptcy the same year and moved to South Florida.

Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor who lived in Brandon for more than a decade, alleged government corruption in a YouTube video. Now he's under arrest in connection with the assassination of Haiti's president.
Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor who lived in Brandon for more than a decade, alleged government corruption in a YouTube video. Now he's under arrest in connection with the assassination of Haiti's president. [ YouTube ]

Steve Bross, a neighbor and airline pilot who kept in touch with Sanon after he moved, said Sanon ran an MRI facility at a hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, and worked for an organization that raised money and supplies for Haitian medical infrastructure. Sanon’s LinkedIn page and bankruptcy records list him as president of the organization, Organisation Rome Haiti.

“I can’t imagine him being involved in anything having to do with that,” Bross said of the assassination. “That’s just way out of character.”

In a report Monday, the Associated Press cited an unnamed friend of Sanon in Florida, who said Sanon told him he was approached by people claiming to represent the U.S. State and Justice departments who wanted to install him as president.

The associate said the plan was for Moïse to be arrested, not killed. He said Sanon would not have participated if he knew Moïse would be assassinated.

Haiti’s National Police chief, Léon Charles, said Moïse’s killers were protecting Sanon, whom he accused of working with those who plotted in the assassination.

Charles said officers found a hat with the logo of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 20 boxes of bullets, gun parts, four license plates from the Dominican Republic, two cars and correspondence with unidentified people, among other things, in Sanon’s house in Haiti.

Twenty-six former Colombian soldiers are suspected in the killing and 23 have been arrested, along with three Haitians. Charles accused a Miami-based company, CTU Security, of recruiting the suspects in the killing and said Sanon flew into Haiti in June on a private jet accompanied by several of the alleged gunmen.

The suspects’ initial mission was to protect Sanon, but they later received a new order: to arrest the president, Charles said.

Charles said that after Moïse was killed, one suspect phoned Sanon, who then got in touch with two people believed to be masterminds of the plot. He did not identify them or say if police know who they are.

Sanon was making $60,000 annually when he filed for bankruptcy in Florida, documents show. According to the filing, the home in Timber Pond — a middle-class subdivision down the street from an elementary school — was valued at about $143,000, with a mortgage of more than $367,000. Several homes there are now valued around $275,000, according to property records. A federal bankruptcy trustee later determined he and his wife hid ownership of about 35 acres in Haiti from creditors in their bankruptcy petition.

Florida records also showed that Sanon had been involved with about a dozen business ventures over the past 20 years, ranging from medical imaging to real estate and veganism. All are now inactive.

Sanon’s arrest comes as a growing number of politicians have challenged interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who is in charge of Haiti with help from police and the military.

Bross said he didn’t remember Sanon being politically involved, except when supporting a friend in a Haitian presidential election in the mid 2000s.

In 2011, a YouTube account under Sanon’s name posted a video of him criticizing “corruption in politics.” Bross confirmed that the man in the video is Sanon.

“Where is the leadership of Haiti?” Sanon says in the video. “Nowhere to be found.”

More recently, a website called Haiti Lives Matter advocated for a transitional government in Haiti and presented Sanon as its leader. The website was defunct by Monday afternoon, though the Internet Archive captured a page on the website on June 7 that identified Sanon as “The man the coalition of leaders has chosen to lead Haiti during this transition.” According to the page, the group intended to “restore safety and true democracy in Haiti.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.