WASHINGTON, D.C. (sentinel.ht) - The Obama administration said it was "concerned" about the speed of a court ruling in Haiti that saw charges suddenly dropped in the indictment of an accused kidnapper with close ties to the family of President Michel Martelly.
On Friday, the embattled Judge Lamarre Belizaire freed Woodly Ethéart, alias Sonson Lafamilia, and Renel Nelfort, alias Renel Le Cref, two leaders of Gang Galil, who had been indicted a month earlier for masterminding a host of violent crimes, including murder, money laundering and more than a dozen kidnappings.
"We are concerned about the ruling, including the speed in which it was made," a State Department spokesman said in an email on Monday in response to a request for comment by Reuters. "This is an ongoing case in the Haitian courts, and we understand the ruling could be appealed."
Woodly Ethéart and Gang Galil had operated with impunity in Haiti for many years according to human rights organizations and were brought to justice when they kidnapped American businessman Samy El Azi, holding him for a ransom of $1.8 million. Ethéart, who is a friend of Martelly's brother-in-law, Charles "Kiko" Saint-Rémy, is the former owner of one of Haiti's fanciest restaurants, La Souvenance.
"The prosecutor in Port au Prince was removed because the government was not satisfied with the performance at the trial," Peguy Jean, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said on Monday regarding the firing of Government Commissioner Kerson Darius Charles two days after the ruling. "At the end of the trial, the prosecutors asked the charges to be dropped," said Jean.
The release of Ethéart immediately raised questions about the handling of the case, with some Haitians suggesting he was let off because of the close relationship with the president's family.
"The move (to free them) absolutely came from the top," argued Pierre Esperance, the executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network. He accused the judge, Lamarre Bélizaire, of corruption, saying he frequently rules in favor of the Martelly government.
The Galil Gang made nearly $2 million dollars from kidnapping ransoms in a two year period, said lawyer and a presidential hopeful, Newton Louis Saint-Juste, who testified in the case. "Of course I'm scared. This exposes all the victims and all the witnesses to Gang Galil," said Saint-Juste, an outspoken critic of the Martelly government.
Martelly's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The Ministry of Justice has until Tuesday to appeal the tossed indictment. If no appeal is filed, government critics say it will be a sign the Ministry of Justice is doing favors for the president.