A chief Haiti prosecutor has appealed a controversial court ruling that led to the release and acquittal of an indicted kidnapper with close ties to the presidential family and charged with murder, drug trafficking and operating a kidnapping ring.
Justice Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir told the Miami Herald that the appeal was filed with Haiti’s Supreme Court on Monday by newly appointed Port-au-Prince prosecutor, Clamé Ocname Daméus. Daméus filed the appeal shortly after he was sworn in to replace chief prosecutor Kherson Darius Charles, who was fired Monday.
Charles has been accused of mishandling the politically charged, high-profile case involving Woodly Ethéart, aka Sonson Lafamilia, and his alleged accomplice Renel Nelfort. Both men were indicted last month by an investigative judge but freed Friday after a trial that barely lasted two hours. The case had been on appeal and never should have been set for trial until the appeal had been decided, legal experts contend.
“He violated procedures,” Casimir said of Charles.
The controversial ruling has triggered outrage in Haiti. Observers say it undermines the independence of the judiciary and calls into question the integrity of the judge and prosecutor. It also risks further accentuating citizens’ distrust in a dysfunctional justice system while strengthening impunity.
On Tuesday, foreign diplomats noted with “deep concern” the breach of procedures. In a statement, U. N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sandra Honoré and others in the international community noted the Supreme Court appeal. They also demanded a prompt investigation of trial Judge Lamarre Bélizaire to restore public confidence in the judicial system.
During the hearing, Bélizaire dismissed victims’ testimony and according to Haiti Press Network, told the men: “If you are involved in what they are accusing you of, do not do this again. If you do it again, you will be arrested and jailed.”
“We are concerned about the ruling, including the speed in which it was made,” said a U.S. State Department spokesman in the Haiti office.
Ethéart and Nelfort were indicted with 11 others in a 30-page charging document filed by Investigative Judge Sonel Jean-Francois. Jean-Francois said the men were the mastermind behind Gang Galil, a ring that kidnapped 17 people over six years and collected $1.5 million in ransom.
Prior to his arrest in May, Ethéart operated the posh La Souvenance restaurant in Port-au-Prince, and worked in the interior ministry. He is a close friend of President Michel Martelly’s brother-in-law, Charles “Kiko” St. Remy.