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Head of security at Haiti’s presidential residence in police custody

By Matt Rivers, Caitlin Hu and Jessie Yeung, CNN

The head of security at Haiti’s presidential residence has been placed in police custody, according to a close associate, as authorities continue to investigate the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise.

Dimitri Herard, who is the head of the General Security Unit of the National Palace, had been questioned at the Inspector General’s office on Wednesday, then transferred to a police station in Port-au-Prince, according to associate Carl Martin, who said he is coordinating Herard’s legal defense team.

When Herard asked the police why he was being held for the night, he was told the decision “came from above,” said Martin, who spoke with Herard on Wednesday evening. He added that police have taken away Herard’s guns and cell phone, and that they had spoken through another police officer’s phone.

The Haitian National Police have not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

Earlier on Wednesday, Herard did not appear for a court inquiry ordered by the Port-au-Prince public prosecutor, citing a mandatory appearance at the Inspector General’s office.

“I have the honor to inform you, following the invitation sent to me by the public prosecutor’s office of Port au-Prince. I am currently under a precautionary measure ordered by the General Inspectorate of the Haitian Police. As a result, I am not available to comply with the request of the public prosecutor,” he said in a letter to the public prosecutor that CNN has seen.

“While I am willing to respond once this protective measure expires, I respectfully request a stay of execution from your office for this purpose as may be required,” he added.

Martin told CNN that Moise had a large security detail, and that Herard’s unit contained a number of officers, but “he’s the only person that’s being held in that fashion.” The chain of command “does not stop at Dimitri,” he added.

Herard hopes for “a fair chance at a fair investigation” now that international agencies including Interpol and the FBI are involved, Martin said, adding, “His job is political. He has a lot of political opponents.”

Martin said the police had initially placed Herard in ‘isolation” for a very short period, for safety reasons.

Moise was killed last Wednesday during an attack on his private residence, throwing the country into political chaos with multiple figures vying to lead the country. The first lady was also injured in the attack, and taken to a Miami hospital for treatment.

On Wednesday, a statement on the first lady’s verified Twitter account thanked the “guardian angels who helped me through this terrible time,” accompanied by a picture that appeared to show her in a hospital bed. CNN has not been able to independently confirm the authenticity of the post.

Authorities say the operation involved at least 26 Colombians, some former members of the Colombian military, hired through a Florida-based security company.

Herard, the head of security at the presidential residence, traveled to Ecuador through Bogota, the capital of Colombia, at the end of May, according to the Colombian National Police. The force said July 12 that it is investigating whether Herard, while in Colombia, met with any of the Colombian nationals allegedly involved in the assassination.

But several people, including relatives of Colombian suspects, told CNN the accusations against the men do not add up.

Matias Gutierrez, a retired special forces soldier in Colombia told CNN on Tuesday that the 26 Colombian suspects were actually hired to provide the President security, and that he himself had been approached for the job by the Florida company.

“They only mentioned a company based in the US, and a job as private security in Haiti. Security for the President of Haiti, who was believed to be under death threat,” Gutierrez said.

“It was all a plot,” he added. “How can you have this type of assassination and not have a single dead but the President himself? If my fellows had done the job, they would have had to enter the residence and kill the guards before killing the President. You would have seen a combat scene.”

CNN has tried repeatedly to contact the Florida company, CTU Security, since Saturday. Colombian police say they are working with Interpol to provide information on its owner, a Venezuelan man.

Three US citizens have also been allegedly linked to the attack. James Solages and Joseph Vincent, both naturalized US citizens originally from Haiti, were detained last week. While, on Sunday, police detained Christian Emmanuel Sanon, also believed to be a naturalized US citizen, who is accused of orchestrating a complex multinational hit job in order to realize his own political ambitions.

Sanon has repeatedly emphasized that “he doesn’t know anything at all,” according to a source close to the investigation who cannot be named because they are not authorized to discuss the affair. 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.

Several of the suspects held by authorities also worked as US law enforcement informants, with ties to the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, according to people briefed on the matter. In total, at least 39 people have been implicated in the assassination so far.

The US has sent senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents to assist in the investigation, and the government is still evaluating requests for assistance from the Haitian government, said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday.

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