Ex-President of Haiti Put Under House Arrest

Written by on October 1, 2014

The deteriorating political climate in Haiti took an unusual and confusing turn this week when Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the twice-exiled former president of Haiti, was ordered by a court not to leave his home as part of a corruption investigation.

The move drew immediate complaints from his supporters that no such sanction existed and that it was another sign that the case was politically motivated.

A smattering of protesters rallied outside Mr. Aristide’s gated compound Thursday night in a pouring rain but there did not appear to be any additional police presence or any effort to restrict access to the residence.

On Friday, a group of police officers assigned to Mr. Aristide’s protective detail withdrew without explanation, Maryse Narcisse, the executive director of his political party, said on local radio.

Mr. Aristide, a former priest and a charismatic figure who rallied the poor to his side but fell out of favor after reports of abuse of power and corruption, has lived a reclusive life since he returned from exile in South Africa in March 2011.

So the practical effect of the order, even if it is carried out, was as mysterious as its origin.

Haitian judicial investigations are normally carried out in secret but almost every major move in this case has spilled into the public arena, leading his supporters to assert that it is devised to tarnish his name and that of his party ahead of long stalled local and legislative elections.

Last month, word leaked to the local news media that the judge in the case, Lamarre Belzaire, has been investigating allegations that Mr. Aristide had looted the treasury of millions of dollars during his second term, which ended abruptly in 2004 when he left the country during a violent crackdown on the opposition.

In August, Judge Belzaire issued an order, widely circulated to journalists, for Mr. Aristide to appear before him on Aug. 13. When the former president failed to show, Judge Belzaire issued a warrant for the police to bring him to court.

But Mr. Aristide’s lawyers said the order was not properly served and they appealed to have the case thrown out on the ground that the judge, appointed by President Michel Martelly, a known political enemy of Mr. Aristide, was biased and not qualified for the bench.

Mario Joseph, an Aristide lawyer, said in an interview on Friday that his team acknowledged the judge’s order for Mr. Aristide to remain in his house but they rejected it as illegal and have asked an appellate court to lift it.

“House arrest does not exist in Haitian law,” he said.

Martelly administration officials have denied any role in the investigation, saying the judiciary was operating independently.

But the house arrest order came the same week that the Senate adjourned without passing a law allowing for the local and legislative elections next month. Some senators, seen as Aristide sympathizers, have blocked it, defying Mr. Martelly.

Andre Paultre contributed reporting.

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