Haitian judge issues arrest warrants accusing former presidents and prime ministers of corruption

The content originally appeared on: Caribbean News Service
FILE – In this Dec. 21, 2015 file photo, Haiti’s President Michel Martelly speaks during an interview at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Martelly, who is constitutionally due to leave office on Feb. 7, said on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016 that the postponed presidential runoff vote will be held on Jan. 17. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery, File)

A judge in Haiti has issued arrest warrants for more than 30 high-ranking officials accused of government corruption, including numerous former presidents and prime ministers.

The warrants, issued Friday and leaked on social media sites over the weekend, accuse the group of misappropriation of funds or equipment related to Haiti’s National Equipment Center. The center is responsible for using heavy machinery for tasks such as building roads or clearing rubble, especially after earthquakes.

Among those named are former presidents Michel Martelly and Jocelerme Privert, as well as former prime ministers Laurent Lamothe, Jean-Michel Lapin, Evans Paul and Jean-Henry Céant. Also accused is former prime minister Claude Joseph, who was in power when former president Jovenel Moïse was killed in July 2021.

None of those named in the arrest warrant could be immediately reached for comment, although Privert, Lapin and Joseph issued statements denying the allegations.

No one has been arrested in the case.

The judge is requesting that those accused meet with him for questioning as the investigation continues, but only Joseph has so far appeared in court.

It is common for Haitian government officials accused in a criminal or civil case to routinely ignore arrest warrants or requests for questioning and face no punishment as they accuse judges of political persecution. It is also rare for any high-ranking Haitian official to be charged with corruption, let alone face trial.

Local newspaper Le Nouvelliste obtained a copy of a statement issued by Lapin, a former prime minister, in which he states that he was never officially notified of the arrest warrant.

He also said that at no time during his 32-year political career did he ever become involved with the National Equipment Center.

“I have also never requisitioned or requested the use of any equipment from this institution for my personal needs or for loved ones,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Privert, a former president, issued a statement accusing the judge of acting maliciously and thoughtlessly. He also noted that the Court of First Instance in the capital of Port-au-Prince, “has no jurisdiction over the actions taken by presidents, prime ministers and ministers in the exercise of their functions.”

The judge could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ex-prime minister Claude Joseph wrote Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he will meet with the judge as requested even though he rejected any association with the National Equipment Center.

“No one, regardless of the position you held in the state, is above the law,” he wrote. “If a judge decides to abuse his office by abusing justice, that is his business. I will not despise the justice of my country. I will be present.”

No further details about the investigation were immediately available.

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