What was lawyer Newton St. Juste thinking
when he went on Haiti’s radios to denounce a case which may or
may not indict former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and eight
others on a collection of charges ranging from embezzlement to
drug trafficking? Why would a lawyer start defending his client
before prosecutors have gone public with an indictment?
The first thing to understand
is that these charges are old, old news. They were concocted
back in 2004 by the Central Unit for Financial Inquiry and Research(UCREF), an agency created under the post-coup de facto
regime of U.S.-installed Prime Minister Gérard Latortue. The
charges, which were so far-fetched that even the de factos’
kangaroo courts eschewed them, had long lain dormant in a
drawer... until someone, somehow “reactivated” the case
by giving it to the offices of investigating Judge Mimose
Janvier on Feb. 24.
Rumors of the resurrected
dossier began to circulate over the weekend but exploded into a
brief but major scandal when St. Juste confirmed the story on
Feb. 27. “The judicial proceeding would be remote-controlled
directly by the National Palace,” St. Juste told Radio
Kiskeya during its 4 p.m. broadcast that day. “Regarding
the handling of the... suspicions of corruption, [St. Juste]
stressed that the High Court of Audit has never issued a
decision rendered, the only element that, in administrative law,
might justify legal action.” The report suggested that two
warrants for Aristide’s arrest had been issued.
“It is a political maneuver,”
St. Juste told Haïti Liberté. “It is manipulation,
wheeling-dealing, and public persecution” by President
Michel Martelly’s government of Aristide, who, despite his
studiously-kept low profile since returning to Haiti from seven
years of exile on Mar. 18, 2011, remains Haiti’s most revered
Almost immediately outrage
erupted around Haiti and throughout its diaspora. Street
corners, telephone lines, and radio call-in shows from Montreal
and Boston to Miami and Port-au-Prince were filled with
indignation against the news. “Is Martelly suicidal?”
asked one representative call-in listener on Brooklyn’s Radio Pa
Nou. “He will light the fuse of an nationwide uprising
against his corrupt regime if he touches a hair on Aristide’s
On the night of Feb. 27,
hundreds of people began to mobilize in Cité Soleil, planning a
major demonstration the next day. But at the same moment, the
government put out a note to diffuse the brewing uprising: “The
Ministry of Justice and Public Safety would like to make a
formal denial of the rumors that two warrants were issued
against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. While affirming
its respect for the independence of the judiciary and equality
before the law, the Justice Ministry is inviting the general
public and the press in particular to not rely on fanciful
rumors, which could adversely affect the process of establishing
the rule of law and the policy of national reconciliation
advocated by the President of the Republic, His Excellency
Joseph Michel Martelly.”
The way the dossier was
presented on Radio Kiskeya was erroneous. There was no
indictment, no arrest warrant. As St. Juste told Haïti
Liberté, “the judge has three months to decide what to do
with the dossier.” In other words, Judge Janvier might act
on the dossier and issue an indictment, or throw it in the
Unfortunately, it seems that
Newton St. Juste had never discussed the matter of speaking out
about the “reactivated dossier” with Aristide or any of
Aristide’s other lawyer like Camille Leblanc or Mario Joseph of
the Office of International Lawyers (BAI).
“Neither President Aristide
nor anyone else in Fanmi Lavalas ever authorized Newton St.
Juste to say what he said,” Fanmi Lavalas spokeswoman
Maryse Narcisse told Haïti Liberté. “We learned about
it on the radio like everyone else. A defense lawyer isn’t
supposed to act like that and say those kinds of things.”
So who told lawyer Newton St.
Juste to start denouncing a dossier that might go nowhere and
would bring publicity to a de facto stew of foolish
fabrications? The answer: Henri Céant, former Presidential
candidate, formerly Aristide’s notary, and now, by looking at FaceBook pictures of him at a post-inaugural party, a good
friend of President Michel Martelly.
It was Céant, not Aristide, who
gave Newton St. Juste the green light to denounce the
resurrected dossier, St. Juste told another lawyer.
What is stranger still is that
the original UCREF complaint included the name of Ginette Céant,
Henri Céant’s sister in law. The new dossier does not
include Ginette Céant’s name.
Henri Céant could not be
reached for his side of the story before going to press.
Could Henri Céant have pushed
Newton St. Juste to talk about the dossier as part of a scheme
hatched with President Martelly? Was it an honest faux pas
by Céant and St. Juste, seeking to defend Aristide against
an unwarranted prosecution? These are the questions that
hopefully will be clarified in the days ahead.
Meanwhile, as we go to press, Radio Kiskeya
reports that the dossier against Aristide and eight others has
disappeared from Judge Janvier’s offices, and that Judge Janvier
herself cannot be found.