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According to sources in the judicial system fewer than ten investigating judges have been approached. Some qualified judges wanted the case. They told AyiboPost that they had not been contacted.
By Wildore Mérancourt. August 11,2020
Last Thursday, some of the judges of the Port-au-Prince district braved the insecurity to appear at the Bicentennial Court House. Among the forty or so judges in the jurisdiction, only about twenty answered “present” during the first civil chamber for the traditional General Assembly.
The roll call started at nine o’clock, but it was not until 11 that the discussions began. According to the agenda, questions about the resumption of the work in the courts preceeded those on any extraordinary meetings. The murder of the president Jovenel Moise, as spectacular as it was violent, interrupted the proceedings at 11:30.
The judicial police had turned over the file on the inquest to the judiciary on the preceding day. Now the dean of the Court of the First Instance, Mr. Bernard Saint-Vil, had to select a judge to conduct the investigation, a crucial step in the process.
Amidst the confusion of of the incessant debates, one of the judges speaks to make an almost unprecedented proposal. “I demand that the judge add to the agenda a resolution for the creation of a commission of at least three judges to investigate the assassination.”, said Ikenson Edume, president of the National Association of Haitian Magistrates.
The majority of judges in attendance considered this an excellent idea.The dean also seemed to be leaning in this direction. He spoke of his own involvement in a similar panel of three investigating judges in the still unresolved assignation of the journalist Jean Dominique, according to Eumdé. Four days after the assembly of judges, the dean announced the choice of Mathieu Chanlatte for the historic investigation of the murder of the former head of state.
According to experts, a panel of judges would have permitted a concentration of expertise on this sensitive case . This would also have reduced the risk of blackmail and politicalpressure, while taking the focus off of one single judge who would otherwise be much more vulnerable.
Even though not formally expressed in Haitian law, the designation of a panel of judges has been made at the discretion of the dean at least twice in the last twenty years.
Mr. Bernard Gousse is an expert in law, dean of the faculty and from Minister of Justice. He recalls the longevity of the criminal code which goes back the the beginning of the 19th century. If this code does not forbid a panel of investigating judges “it does not forbid a dean from forming one.” Even more so for an affair as complex as the assassination of the president, with more than forty persons from many different countries involved in the case.
There is nothing to indicate whether legal concerns pushed Bernard Saint-Vil to abandon this idea.
A few days before the announcement, the media reported alleged difficulties encountered by the dean in making the selection. Several judges who were approached would have refused to take the case.
According to half a dozen interviews conducted by AyiboPost with high-ranking sources in the judicial system, some of the judges contacted refused to work on the murder. One of the reasons is that at least one of them is overwhelmed by another major matter.
However, the idea that the large majority of judges would refuse the case is “false”, according to Marthel Jean Claude, an investigating judge, also President of the Professional Association of Magistrates, who is well informed of the proceedings.
“I have spoken with several judges who are available and willing.” said Jean Claude, “They have also told the dean that they are available. The rumor in the media has upset many judges.”
Mr. Wilner Morin is one of the rare judges in Haiti who is a specialist in transnational and financial crimes. His mandate as a judge was not renewed by Jovenel Moise last January, despite a positive recommendation from the High Counsel of Judicial Power. If he was not approached, Mr.Morin, who remains a sitting judge despite the information spread in the media, “many more judges have said yes than no.”
Formally, or via intermediaries, fewer than ten examining magistrates were contacted by the dean according to a source close to the proceedings who requested anonymity for fear of negative career repercussions.
At least five judges, praised by their peers for their neutrality and competence, were not considered or even contacted, according to information collected by AyiboPost.
Marthel Jean Claude is on this informal list discussed in judicial circles. He affirms that he would have considered the request, had it been formally issued.
The name of Judge Loubens Elysee was also mentioned many times in interviews. AyiboPost was not able to contact him but one of his colleagues reported that he was approached but then passed over for Mathieu Chanlatte. He had been “open” to the idea of taking the case. If there there were many “competent” judges, why were the media reporting that they were running away from it? “They were circulating the rumor in order to easily impose Mathieu Chanlatte,” another judge concluded.
Political considerations appear to have played a part in the choice made by the Dean. “Chanlatte is reputed to be very close to Jovenel Moise and the Haitian Party Tet Kate, he is a team judge,” declared Mr. Samuel Madistin, in a telephone interview. “With that reputation, it will be difficult for him to handle this case” continued the lawyer who represents two of the individuals held in the assassination of Jovenel Moise. ́
The dean Bernard Saint-Vil did not respond to multiple requests for interviews nor to telephone calls from AyiboPost.
Mathieu Chanlatte enters the public debates thanks to two matters which have been widely publicized.
The first concerns allegations of corruption which go back to 2019 and implicate the former First Lady, Martine Moise. Some observers denounce the the laxity of Chanlatte in the issue of the contract between the Haitian state and a German company after two warnings from theHigh Court for Oversight and Administrative Procedures.
The second concerns a judicial political matter between the former President, Jovenel Moise and the Société Générale d’ ́Enerie SA (Sogener). Some actions taken during that case failed to comply with Haitian law, according to legal experts.
“The dean could have chosen a judge who had a reputation of neutrality, of impartiality, and that would have given the case of being conducted will right until the end.” Continued Mr. Madistin. “I am waiting to see his first acts to see if he will treat the case seriously, with independence.”
The choice of Mathieu Charlotte reopens a bloody wound in the legal establishment in Haiti. In the Court of the First Instance are the deans who legally receive and distribute the cases to the examining judges. With regularity, these deans find themselves among the defendants becausethey do not take into account the intellectual and technical skills of judges in the assignment of cases.
Within the National Association of Haitian Court Officers, Ainé Martin advocates for judges who are specialists in financial crimes or human trafficking for example. This would make the process more professional and allow justice to triumph. “Matthieu Chanlatte has no speciality” complains Martin. “The case of the assassination of Jovenel Moise is complicated. It ought to be presided over by a judge who specializes in transnational crime.”
Two judges interviewed objected to how the distribution of cases are made by at the Court of First Instance in Port-Au-
Prince. Important issues will be divided not on the basis of competence but more on the bases of considerations of proximity to the dean, Mr. Bernard Saint Vil.
Four reputable institutions in France educated Judge Ikenson Edumé in the field of economic and financial crimes. Despite the abundance of cases in his field, he has not been given any case touching on financial or economic crime since 2012.
translated by Elizabeth Eames Roebling