Haiti to appeal kidnapping verdict that drew wide criticism

PORT-AU-PRINCE— The Haitian government will appeal a widely criticized decision by a judge to dismiss charges against two men in a high-profile kidnapping case, the justice minister said Wednesday.

A notice of appeal was submitted to the Supreme Court within the required deadline to challenge the decision, Justice Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir said.

The decision by a judge to dismiss charges that included kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking against Woodly Etheart and Rene Nelfort after a two-hour trial on Friday has drawn criticism from human rights groups as well as the U.N., the U.S. government and representatives of other nations that make up the "Core Group," that monitor the country.

Etheart owned La Souvenance, an upscale restaurant in Petionville that has been closed since shortly after his arrest in May. He previously worked for the Interior Ministry and is reportedly a friend of the brother-in-law of President Michel Martelly. The rapid resolution of their case raised eyebrows in a country where most cases languish for years without being decided.

A statement from the Core Group issued late Tuesday said that holding a trial at this stage was a violation of Haitian legal procedures because a previously filed appeal of an earlier ruling had yet to be decided. "This is a serious error and a breach of established procedure which calls into question the impartiality of the process," it said.

Casimir said in an interview that the government agrees that the correct procedures were not followed in the case and that the judge erred in releasing the two men, who were accused of leading a ring that kidnapped 17 people from 2008-2014. It will be up to the Supreme Court whether to take the two back into custody, he said. It was unknown when a decision would be announced.

"We are asking the Supreme Court to analyze the case and we will wait for the decision," he said, "Whatever is decided we will apply it."

The government has also dismissed the chief prosecutor who handled the case and replaced him earlier this week.