Ex-Promoter in Haiti Charged in Kidnapping Ring – New York Times

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A former music promoter with ties to the Haitian president, Michel Martelly, was indicted this week, accused of running a kidnapping ring said to be responsible in the killing of a police inspector and the abductions of 17 people.
But the surrogate prosecutor overseeing the case disagreed with the investigation’s findings and recommended dropping the charges, according to a charging document made public Wednesday.
Human rights activists in Haiti said the mixed message in the indictment of the promoter, Woodley Ethéart, underscored how prosecutors often represent the interests of the administration that appointed them — a particularly strong trend since Mr. Martelly took office in 2011.
He has been running the country without a Parliament, and several people in his circle have arrest records.
Mr. Ethéart was accused of leading the Galil Gang, which is accused of abducting businessmen for ransom. In a six-year period, the gang abducted 17 people, an investigating judge wrote.
The judge issued a 30-page report that said Mr. Ethéart had made several calls to the kidnappers. He also owns six cars and has seven bank accounts, despite a Ministry of Interior salary of just under $1,500 a month.
“The quickness of the transactions shows the acquisition of such property is of illicit origin,” the judge, Sonel Jean François, wrote. “Investments and movements of funds are only steps to disguise the nature and the origin.”
Mr. Ethéart is good friends with Charles Saint-Rémy, the president’s brother-in-law, who acknowledged calling senior government officials after Mr. Ethéart’s arrest last year, urging that he be released from custody. The president often dines at a French restaurant operated by Mr. Ethéart’s family.
In an interview last week, Mr. Saint-Rémy said a politically ambitious former prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, had set Mr. Ethéart up. He added that the case had dragged on for far longer than the law permitted, which proved that the administration did not control the case.
Mr. Ethéart has denied all the charges, and at least one person agreed with him: the prosecutor.
In Haiti, judges conduct investigations and recommend charges for trial. A prosecutor can appeal an investigative judge’s indictment.
The prosecutor, Jean Roby Dimanche, argued that most of the other defendants in the case never mentioned Mr. Ethéart’s involvement, and no evidence linked him to the crimes. Only one suspected gang member, he added, implicated Mr. Ethéart. Mr. Dimanche recommended that Mr. Ethéart be released.
A prominent human rights activist, Pierre Esperance, said prosecutors were controlled by the government because they were appointed by the administration.
“It is very unfortunate because the government commissioner has the role to protect the society against acts of banditry; he’s the defender of society,” Mr. Esperance said. “While he’s acting like this, it shows you how the power is complicit with the Galil Gang. As this case is a very good one and those people are being charged, I do not see how they’re going to release them unless they do a shady deal.”
One of Mr. Ethéart’s lawyers, Claudy Gassant, declined to comment.


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