(Reuters) - Supporters of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide accused local authorities of political persecution after he was summoned before a judge on Wednesday for questioning in a money laundering case.
Aristide’s lawyer, Mario Joseph, appeared in court to argue that the summons had not been properly served. But the judge failed to show up, according to Nicole Phillips, an attorney for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), who works with Joseph.
“We understand that an arrest warrant was issued yesterday afternoon,” said Phillips. “But President Aristide has not been arrested. It’s unclear what is going to happen.”
A former Roman Catholic priest still popular among poor Haitians, Aristide became president of the impoverished Caribbean country in 1991 but was later ousted in a military coup.
He was elected again in 2000, but driven from power four years later in a rebellion led by former police and soldiers. Aristide returned to Haiti in 2011 after seven years in exile in South Africa.
Local media reported on Thursday that a crowd of Aristide supporters blocked the street in front of his home on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Phillips accused the judge of being a political stooge who was appointed without the required qualifications for his post. “It appears clear to us that this is more of a political persecution that seeks to discredit Aristide and his political party, Lavalas,” said Phillips, noting that important elections are due this fall.
IJDH said Aristide was never served with the court summons in person, and it was unclear why he was wanted for questioning.
Aristide was accused in 2004 by the Haitian government of public corruption, but those charges were later withdrawn, IJDH said.
Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Dan Grebler