by Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
A special Senate Commission of Inquiry into the sudden and suspicious Jul. 13 death of Investigating Judge Jean Serge Joseph released a bomb-shell on Aug. 8. Its highly detailed 29-page report charges President Michel Martelly, as well as his Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon, with lying to the public and calls for Haiti’s Deputies to remove them all from office.
Judge Joseph was investigating charges of massive corruption against Martelly’s wife, Sophia St. Rémy Martelly, and their son, Olivier Martelly. On Jul. 2, he had issued a summons for them along with several high government officials to testify before him. Since then, he had been pressured and threatened personally by Martelly and, finally in a secret Jul. 11 meeting, by Lamothe, Sanon, and others official as well, to call off the investigation, according to the five senators of the Special Commission.
The Senators called on Deputies to “recognize the interference of the Head of State, the Prime Minister, and the Justice Minister in the sovereign exercise of judicial power so as to obtain court decisions in their favor,” to take note of the “perjurious nature of the executive authorities who have denied their participation in the meeting of Jul. 11, 2013 while the investigation confirms their participation in that meeting,” to “recognize the betrayal of the Head of State who had sworn to uphold the Constitution and laws of the Republic,” and finally “to charge the Head of State with the crime of high treason.”
The senators who authored the report were Pierre Francky Exius, Westner Polycarpe, François Anick Joseph, Steven Irvenson Benoit, and John Joel Joseph.
The Commission gathered compelling testimony from many quarters including Judge Joseph’s widow Rachel, prominent lawyer and close friend Samuel Madistin, fellow judges Jean Wilner Morin, Bernard St. Vil, and Berge O. Surpris, and also Ms. Ketly Julien, who works with the USAID-linked NGO Mobile Institute for Democratic Education (IMED), which is providing logistical support to Haiti’s judiciary.
“He told me: ‘My dear, I’m in a real bind, a fatal situation,’” Ketly testified to the Senators of a conversation she had with Judge Joseph on the eve of his death about the secret Jul. 11 meeting which was held at the law office of Martelly’s legal counselor Garry Lissade. “He told me: ‘It wasn’t just Garry Lissade who was at the meeting with the Justice Minister. President Michel Martelly was there too, along with Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.’... He told me that as Michel Martelly spoke to him, [Martelly] purposefully let the spit from his mouth spray on [the judge’s] face, then [Martelly] put his finger in [the judge’s] face as he threatened him, using all kinds of words to humiliate him.” The judge told her that Martelly “was very evil and used many bad words,” Ketly testified.
The report devotes considerable time to dissecting the contradictory testimony of Judge Raymond Jean Michel, the dean of the Port-au-Prince court, who allegedly drove Judge Joseph to the fateful Jul. 11 meeting. Dean Michel claims that the two men left a practically deserted courthouse (a hurricane was approaching Haiti) and went, not to Lissade’s office, but to a Port-au-Prince restaurant where they sat in the Dean’s car in the parking lot for 20 minutes. Once there, the Judge asked the Dean one question: "Have you received calls from people in the executive branch about the decision that I made?" The Dean said he responded “no.”
Not only was the Dean’s testimony contradicted by all the other people interviewed, but, as the Commission concluded, “the story of Dean faces serious problems in its logical consistency.”
For example, the Senators asked: “Why, if the Dean has at his disposal an office that is supposedly protected from the intrusion of non-invited people, would he feel the need to go... to the parking lot of a restaurant to answer a simple question of a judge?” and “Why would this simple conversation have lasted 20 minutes while the monosyllabic answer the judge received takes only a second?” and “Why not stay in the vehicle and talk that day at the Palace of Justice when the courthouse was virtually empty, so there was no risk of being heard?” and finally, “What was it in that conversation that had to be kept from being heard by intruders?”
“None of this [affair] could have happened without the approval, support, and involvement of the Dean,” the report notes, calling for his dismissal. “That's why Dean Jean Michel has became the central figure in the case.”
Witness after witness told of the high state of panic that gripped the judge in his final days before dying of a brain hemorrhage at the capital’s Bernard Mevs Hospital. The body was transported to Montreal, Canada, where Judge Joseph had been a citizen and had lived for many years. A preliminary autopsy done there has not been made public by the Canadian coroner or by the family, and a definitive verdict on the cause of death may come as late as November. Senator Moïse Jean-Charles and Joseph’s brothers have charged that the judge was poisoned with a spiked glass of whiskey that he was all but forced to drink at the Jul. 11 meeting, but the report said that the important matter was the meeting itself.
“Having not examined the thesis of poisoning which, even if proven, would be difficult to pinpoint in space and time, the Commission has become convinced that the threats and pressures made against this honest but fragile judge were what did him in,” the report concluded. “The intra-parenchymal hemorrhage diagnosed [as the cause of death] is very likely to have resulted from the intense psychological pressure he was under.”
This pressure was building for days before the Jul. 11 meeting, and the doomed judge told almost anybody who would listen about the ordeal he was enduring. “For example, one witness said that Monday, Jul. 8, 2013, returning to Port-au-Prince, the judge was stopped on Highway #1, near Arcahaie, by a white, all-terrain pick-up,” the report says. “The driver lowered his right window to address the judge who lowered his left window: ‘You are keeping me from sleeping, right?’ A conversation ensued in which serious threats were made against the judge. It turns out the driver was identified as President Martelly himself. He was driving and had two police officers in USGPN [Palace Guard] uniforms in the back. One of them took pictures of the three occupants of the judges’ vehicle. After a litany of insults and threats, [Martelly’s] vehicle headed back South, but the flabbergasted judge thought only of his death. He told his security guard Johnny and his cousin Berlens that they were about to die.”
The next step in implementing the report’s recommendations is to have the Senate ratify the report. This requires a quorum of 16 Senators out of the 20 seated. (Elections for the Senate’s expired third – 10 seats – has been delayed, critics say purposefully, by the Martelly government’s foot-dragging. The whole Parliament will expire in January 2014 if new elections are not held.)
The House of Deputies is also heavily bribed by the Martelly clique, with envelopes of cash openly distributed during key votes. This will make impeachment challenging.
Nonetheless, the report of the Senate’s Special Commission of Inquiry is a milestone and an important official document which painstakingly and clearly lays out an incontrovertible case of corruption, intimidation, and intrigue which ended in Judge Joseph’s tragic demise.