(Bloomberg) -- Just a few weeks ago, Reginald Boulos, a prominent Haitian businessman, was planning his first presidential run in one of the hemisphere’s most chaotic and troubled nations.
Those plans ended July 7 with the brazen murder of President Jovenel Moise and subsequent allegations that Boulos, 65, might have helped finance the country’s first presidential assassination in a century.Speaking from an undisclosed location outside of Haiti, Boulos said the accusations and rumors are keeping him from returning home and seem designed to sideline him politically.“I had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Jovenel’s death,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday. “Nobody could have imagined this would happen except the people who planned it, financed it and did it.”
Moise’s murder is still being investigated and more than 40 people are in custody. But Prime Minister Ariel Henry and other top officials have said that the true criminal masterminds are likely at large. And they’ve insinuated that only a few rich Haitians, including Boulos, have the financial resources to organize the broad conspiracy that involved hiring more than a dozen former Colombian soldiers.
Moise’s widow, Martine, told the New York Times that Boulos had much to gain from her husband’s death, citing his presidential aspirations, his ongoing legal troubles and the government’s decision to freeze his bank accounts.
Read More: ‘Big Fish’ Behind Haiti Murder Still Unidentified, Minister Says
Boulos says he doesn’t know any of the people who have been arrested or are being sought and has never “provided any funds directly or indirectly” to any of them.
The frozen bank accounts Moise mentioned contained about $30,000, a modest sum compared to the $18 million he says that he and his companies pay, on average, in taxes to the Haitian government every year.
As for his presidential aspirations, Boulos says Moise’s death has wrecked his chances.“The false accusations have damaged my standing in the country,” he said. “Contrary to what people say, I have absolutely nothing to gain from this killing.”
Boulos worked as a doctor in the Cite Soleil shantytown for 14 years before opening his first convenience store in 1997. Now the Boulos Investment Group has a chain of grocery stores, car dealerships and real estate holdings.
In 2018 he formed the MTV Ayiti political party and joined opposition voices calling for Moise, 53, to step down. But he said overthrowing -- much less killing -- Moise was never mentioned in his political circles.
“Our fight was a democratic one,” he insists. “We were working to build a strong party, and in less than two years we had 33,000 party members and we were preparing to go to a free and fair election.”
In Boulos’ telling, the government recognized him as a political threat and tried to undermine him in the courts. “And now they have invented baloney accusations to scare me off,” he said.
Local media have said Boulos is a billionaire, a label he denies. “I’m well off but I’m not wealthy,” he said, describing himself as a “multimillionaire” who’s likely not among the country’s 50 wealthiest people.
Even so, his riches are conspicuous in Haiti -- the poorest and most unequal nation in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly 60% of Haitians live below the poverty line and the wealthiest 20% control more than 64% of the nation’s wealth, according to the World Bank.
The stark divide has led to class animosity that Moise exploited by railing against “oligarchs” and “elites.” Boulos concedes Haiti’s inequality is a serious issue and that the nation’s unscrupulous rich are part of the problem.“The elite wealthy people want to make money and they don’t want to pay taxes and they live off contraband and corruption -- and then go and spend the money in Miami,” he said. But it’s in politics where the corrupt can “go to sleep poor and wake up rich.”
“We have seen that with president after president,” he said, citing a report from Haiti’s high court in 2020 that found that successive governments from 2008 to 2016 had fraudulently misused more than $2 billion in aid from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe subsidized fuel program.
“It’s not a sin to be rich,” he said. “It’s sin to prevent other people from getting rich.”
Fear of Home
Boulos says he left Haiti June 25 on a business trip to the U.S. and had planned to return on July 9 when he heard of Moise’s murder.“I have not been back to Haiti since,” he said. “With all the allegations that were promoted against me, and with the First Lady pointing the finger at me, I fear for my safety in Haiti.”Others share Boulos’ concerns. Haitian investigators told local and international media that they had gone into hiding after receiving death threats and were being pressured to include Boulos and others as potential suspects in the case.
Boulos said the only chance of finding Moise’s killers and those who ordered it, is to guarantee the investigation’s independence by putting it in the hands of the international community. While U.S. and Colombian authorities are assisting, the case is being led by Haitian officials.“The investigation has already been botched” Boulos said, referring to apparent political meddling in the case. “But I want the truth to come out.”
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