Earlier this month, courts in Turkey ordered Samir Handal to be released after not finding sufficient reasons from Haiti for his extradition in the Jovenel Moïse assassination case. But more than three weeks later, his family says, Turkey has not released the Jordanian-Haitian businessman.
In an exclusive interview with The Haitian Times, a close family member, who asked that her name not be disclosed for safety reasons, said Handal is now being held illegally after being set to return to Miami.
“It’s a form of kidnapping…He’s illegally being held in Turkey right now,” Handal’s family member said.
After seven months of court hearings in Turkey, the family member said, Handal purchased a plane ticket after the release order was issued July 4. He was ready to reunite with family on July 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, a Jordanian businessman, was accused of renting his house in Haiti to Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian American later arrested as a mastermind behind the assassination of President Moïse. Handal said he rented the house to Sanon to live in temporary, and that he 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 the Handal’s Red Notice on April 20. A Red Notice is a request to global law enforcement to locate and arrest a person pending extradition or other legal actions.
“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 Ministry of Justice has not yet responded to messages seeking comment.
Throughout the hearings, the close relative spoke to Handal about once per week.
“He was really agitated,” she said. “Really in disbelief that this is where he was. Like, we all were. I still am. I don’t know how we got to this.”
Handal’s arrest and the Red Notice
A commando group killed Jovenel Moïse, the President of Haiti, shooting him 12 times at his home on July 7, 2021, according to Haitian authorities. His wife Martine Moïse was also shot and injured in the attack.
The legal process in Haiti has been sluggish, with their suspects 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 who buys properties and fixes them 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 there, when Handal arrived at the Istanbul airport on Nov. 15, 2021, he was arrested.
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 sentence.
“It was surreal, I had a hard time grasping the circumstances of what was actually happening,” the family member said. “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 his life would be in danger and 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 he’d 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 she lost hope.
“We felt that every time a door would open, it would shut right back in our face,” the close family member 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 he’s being held in Turkey detention, she feels like she didn’t wake up from the nightmare.
“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.”