On Jul. 4, a Turkish court ordered Haitian businessman Samir Handal to be released from almost eight months of detention.
The judge found that the Haitian government presented insufficient evidence to justify Handal’s extradition back to Haiti for his alleged involvement in the Jul. 7, 2021 assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse.
Now, four weeks later, Turkey has still not released the Jordanian-Haitian businessman. [A well-placed Haïti Liberté source says that the Turkish government is awaiting a revised extradition request from Port-au-Prince.]
According to a 122-page Aug. 2, 2021 report by the Central Direction of the Judicial Police (DCPJ), starting on Jan. 8, 2021, Handal rented a residence he owns in Delmas 60 to doctor/preacher Christian Emmanuel Sanon, one of the foremost ringleader suspects in Moïse’s murder. The report says Sanon held several planning meetings with other alleged assassination suspects at the rented residence, where a police search turned up seven Haitian and three Palestinian passports as well as a checkbook, all belonging to Handal.
Handal flew from Haiti to Miami on Jul. 9, 2021, two days after the magnicide.
Handal being held “illegally,” family claims
In an exclusive interview with The Haitian Times, a close family member, who asked that her name not be disclosed for safety reasons, said that Turkish authorities have no grounds to hold Handal, who was set to return to Miami.
“It’s a form of kidnapping,” Handal’s family member said. “He’s illegally being held in Turkey right now.”
After seven months of court hearings in Turkey, Handal purchased a plane ticket following the July release order, the family member said. He was planning to reunite with family on Jul. 15, but, as he passed through immigration at the Istanbul airport, he was stopped and told there was a ban on his departure.
He was taken back to the detention center in Izmit, Turkey, the relative said.
“We’re all praying for him to get out,” she said. “We would like the Turkish government to release him so he can come back home safely. I don’t know what more we can do to prove his innocence.”
Handal admits that he rented the Delmas 60 residence to Sanon but had no knowledge of the crime.
Daniel Pulecio Boek, Handal’s lawyer in the U.S., shared documentation with The Haitian Times showing Interpol suspended Handal’s Red Notice on Apr. 20, 2022. A Red Notice is a request to global law enforcement to locate and arrest a person pending extradition or other legal action.
The “Turkish Ministry of Justice refuses to recognize Interpol’s decision and is maintaining the Red Notice in their system and that is the reason he cannot travel,” Boek said.
The Turkish Justice Ministry has not yet responded to messages seeking comment.
Throughout the hearings, the close relative spoke to Handal about once a week.
“He was really agitated,” she said. “Really in disbelief that this is where he was… We all were. I still am. I don’t know how we got to this.”
Handal’s arrest and the Red Notice
A Colombian commando group killed President Jovenel Moïse, shooting him 12 times at his Pèlerin 5 home on Jul. 7, 2021, according to Haitian authorities. His wife Martine Moïse was also shot and wounded in the attack.
The legal process in Haiti has all but stalled, with detained suspects still awaiting prosecution more than a year later.
The FBI interviewed Handal several times while he was in Miami. Handal explained to the FBI he rented the house in Haiti to Sanon for only a few months. Handal is a real-estate businessman, buying and fixing properties for resale, his relative said.
During that time, Sanon and numerous others had been arrested.
Handal then “got antsy” and decided to leave Florida to visit his mother in Palestine because she was elderly, his close family member said.
“He took the chance and went,” she said. “I don’t think he ever believed anything would happen to him, because I remember speaking to him the day before he left, and he felt fine about leaving and just wanted to see his mom.”
On his way to Palestine, Handal arrived at the Istanbul airport on Nov. 15, 2021 and was arrested there.
The arrest warrant was from the Port-au-Prince Prosecutor’s Office, which had triggered the Interpol Red Notice for fugitives wanted for prosecution or sentencing.
“It was surreal,” the family member said. “I had a hard time grasping the circumstances of what was actually happening. I’m a fighter, so once you have that moment of shock and surpass that, you’re like, ‘OK it’s time to get [things] done now.’”
Handal’s family began researching and calling everyone they knew and built a team of lawyers who fought to keep Handal in Turkey. The lawyers told the courts that his life would be in danger and that he wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial in Haiti.
“I’m happier he was there than in Haiti,” the close family member said. “[In Turkey], he’s got a fighting chance. In Haiti, everybody’s still sitting in jail, and they still haven’t gone through the procedure.”
No docs from Haiti, more hearings in Turkey
Handal’s first hearing in Turkish courts was in December, and his family was optimistic that he would be released before Christmas, since Haiti hadn’t sent the evidence required to continue holding him. But he wasn’t released, and other hearings took place later in December, January, April, May, and the last in July.
The close family member said at each hearing, Turkish courts would say they needed to give Haiti more time to send over sufficient documents.
Before the July hearing, the family member said that she lost hope.
“We felt that every time a door would open, it would shut right back in our face,” she said.
So when her mother called her at 5 a.m. with the news he was ordered released, she couldn’t believe it.
“It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and the nightmare was finally over,” the family member said.
Now that Handal is still being detained in Turkey, she feels like she didn’t wake up from the nightmare. “He’s stuck in no-man’s-land,” she said.
“Our lives are on hold”
The close family member said she had a hard time seeing Handal wrongfully accused and implicated. She experiences panic attacks that were exacerbated by the arrest.
“I would never leave my house, because, I think, it was almost like I was trying to mimic, psychologically, what he was going through,” she said. “I couldn’t go walk my dog, and I was just scared to do anything because I felt guilty for anything I did.”
She said she will not be able to move forward until he is released.
“It’s taken a huge emotional toll on all of us,” the family member said. “The best way to describe it is that all our lives are on hold.”
An earlier version of this article was published on the website of The Haitian Times.