The highly suspicious death last
weekend of an Investigating Judge (Juge d’instruction) who was
probing alleged corruption in the presidential family has
shocked Haiti and started a cycle of charges and counter-charges
which will surely widen Haiti’s ever-growing political divide.
Serge Joseph was investigating a corruption case implicating
President Michel Martelly’s wife and son, Sophia and Olivier
Martelly. Both stand accused of siphoning off hundreds of
thousands of dollars from bogus social and sports programs,
which have made token gestures at reducing Haiti’s surging
poverty while being hyped by expensive propaganda campaigns and
counter-productive publicity stunts, critics charge.
The judge, 58,
died in a Port-au-Prince hospital on Jul. 13 from what the
hospital described in an unprecedented next-day press conference
as a “cerebrovascular accident” or ACV, in short, a kind of
to Judge Jean Serge Joseph say that in the days leading up to
his death, he was under intense pressure to drop the case,
having received many threats. According to several accounts,
pressure particularly intensified after the judge called for the
prosecution of the presidential family in Port-au-Prince’s
criminal court due to the findings of his investigation into
their alleged corruption.
sources in Martelly’s entourage, the President was not at all
happy about Judge Jean Serge Joseph’s decision, which reportedly
even caused him to lose sleep. This case was a sort of Achilles
heel of the government, which portrays itself as promoting the
rule of law with lots of propaganda.
Serge Joseph did not merely refer the case to criminal court. On
Jul. 2, 2013, he issued a surprisingly bold order summoning as
witnesses Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and other senior state
officials following a complaint filed by two young lawyers,
André Michel and Newton Saint-Juste, who accused Sophia and
Olivier Martelly of embezzlement and fraud. According to several
sources close to the judge, it is following this order that the
judge’s torments really began. "The threats became more
pronounced and were more specific," one source stressed. Some of
the president's advisers say that the issue had become too
embarrassing for the presidential family.
Some judges and
others involved in the justice system who requested anonymity
say that judges are constantly working under pressure whenever
they are dealing with a case involving people close to executive
power. These judicial officers believe that the executive branch
holds the judiciary hostage and hinders its operation. According
to them, the courts will not operate freely as long as the
executive continues to interfere in judicial affairs.
specifically President Martelly and Prime Minister Lamothe, in
the presence of Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon and Dean of
Port-au-Prince’s Civil Court Raymond Jean Michel, browbeat and
intimidated the judge during two meetings at the law offices of
Martelly advisor Gary Lissade last week on Jul. 10 and 11, said
a prominent lawyer and former deputy who was a close friend of
the late judge. Speaking on Jul. 14 on TV Plural (Télé Plurielle)
in Port-au-Prince, Samuel Madistin claims to have spoken with
the judge before his death, the day after the meetings, and said
that Jean Serge Joseph was not allowed to be driven by his
personal driver or to be accompanied by his bodyguards.
According to Madistin, Martelly and Lamothe “demanded” that the
judge drop the case.
close to the judge say these two meetings involved harassment
and “mental torture” in which he was clearly asked to scuttle
the case, which is currently under appeal. Twenty-four hours
after these stressful meetings, on Fri., Jul. 12, the judge
supposedly had a stroke that left him in a deep coma, although,
according to his family, he did not suffer from any serious
illnesses. Admitted to the Bernard Mevs Hospital in “critical
condition” (according to a hospital spokesman) on Saturday at
about 3 a.m., he died later that evening at around 8 p.m.,
hospital sources said.
regime, implicated in many scandals, each more embarrassing than
the next, now has a corpse on its hands, and not just any
corpse, but that of a judge who was trying to shed light on a
matter which is fueling debate in all spheres of society. Across
Haiti and Haitian diaspora, the regime is considered one of the
most corrupt that the country has ever known. The judge’s
investigation could have allowed the presidential family, if it
is not involved in corruption, to prove their innocence and
clear their name. However, the regime’s methods have certainly
not dispelled suspicions about First Lady Sophia Martelly and
her son Oliver Martelly. On the contrary, public mistrust of the
regime has deepened.
Michel, and Lissade have denied that they took part in the
meeting alleged by Mr. Madistin. In fact, they deny that any
such meeting ever took place. Mr. Lissade, a former justice
minister, said in a press release, that Mr. Madistin’s
"allegations were not the expression of any truth but were
rather of a lying nature.” Minister Sanon said Mr. Madistin’s
statements were “the product of his imagination.”
participate in any meeting with the president, the prime
minister, and Serge Joseph,” Sanon said. “I don’t know what’s
being talked about.”
spokesman, Lucien Jura, has also denied the meetings took place.
Mr. Madistin insisted that the threats made by Martelly and
Lamothe in the presence of Sanon and Jean Michel took place in
Lissade’s offices. Madistin vowed that he would sue for Judge
Jean Serge Joseph’s wrongful death.
Who and what
should we believe? Is it all a fabrication? Has Samuel Madistin
concocted this scenario alone? Why would he make such charges?
There are many gray areas in this case which need to be cleared
Saint-Juste and André Michel have called the judge’s death “a
political assassination.” According to them, the deceased judge
was constantly under pressure from President Martelly to abandon
the investigation and prosecution of his wife and son. The two
young lawyers express their determination to pursue this matter
to the end so that all light be shed on the alleged involvement
of the presidential family.
Rev. Edouard Paultre, the head of the Haitian Council of Non
State Actors (CONHANE), declared that Judge Joseph Serge’s death
merits serious investigation to elucidate its cause.
Esperance, Executive Director of the National Network for the
Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), says the judge was under
pressure and death threats from the Martelly regime. Mr.
Esperance described the Martelly regime as a "wrongdoer power"
which does not respect human rights.
reported on Jul. 16 that RNDDH and the Platform of Haitian
Organizations to Defend Human Rights (POHDH) sent a letter to
the Superior Council of Judicial Power (CSPJ) saying that there
is another “trusted person” who is ready to come forward to
confirm Madistin’s account. In their letter, the RNDDH and POHDH
said that Judge Serge Joseph “made important declarations to
friends as well as to other judges affirming that he was the
object of huge pressures from to executive to go back on his
decision” to summon high government officials as witnesses in
Barbier, a sociologist and former Planning and External
Cooperation Minister, what happened to the judge is one more
element that illustrates the need for the population to mobilize
to throw out a regime that does not respect its commitments and
human rights. "You can not build a democratic state of law while
at the same time human rights are being trampled," he said.
Moïse Jean-Charles also held a press conference to denounce
Judge Serge Joseph’s death as the responsibility of the Martelly
There are other
elements which should not be overlooked. First, Judge Serge
Joseph was admitted to the Bernard Mevs Hospital a 3 a.m., but
he was not seen by a doctor for four hours, until 7 a.m.,
according to the two doctors (at least one of them North
American) who spoke to the press about the matter (Télé-Plurielle,
Jul. 14, 2013).
is the first time in Haiti, a hospital had seen fit to hold a
press conference following the death of a patient where the
institution and the doctors at the bedside of the deceased
patient were not implicated in malpractice. Is this not strange?
Finally, one of
the doctors who met the press blatantly sported a pink bracelet,
which is worn by avid supporters of the Martelly regime.
Bizarre! In addition to an autopsy on the deceased, this
hospital should also be investigated.
After the sudden death of Judge Serge Joseph, what
will be the result of the alleged corruption case involving the
first lady and the president's son? Will there be an honest
judge who will take up the investigation of this matter? Can a
judge look into this matter in peace, without being intimidated
or threatened by the National Palace? The list of questions goes
on and on. Nothing is certain in this case. The coming months
will reveal more about the true nature of this regime which uses
the concept of “rule of law” as a political slogan to fool the