By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- Haiti's former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has decided to challenge a judge conducting a criminal inquiry into acts of corruption, misappropriation of public funds and laundering of drug money blamed on his administration from 2001 to 2004.
The dean of the capital's first instance court, Raymond Jean-Michel, confirmed on Tuesday that he has received, from Aristide's lawyers, a copy of a motion seeking recusal and disqualification of Judge Lamarre Bélizaire on the grounds of bias.
However, law experts are divided on whether the challenged magistrate should refrain from further actions in the case, while the request for recusal is being studied by higher judicial authorities.
"I received on August 14, a copy of a request for recusal filed by former president Aristide against Judge Lamarre Belizaire," Jean-Michel told the Haitian-Caribbean News Network (HCNN) on Tuesday.
"We'll communicate the request to the judge for comment and further steps provided by law will be taken," said Jean-Michel.
Last week, Belizaire issued an arrest warrant for Aristide, who failed to comply with a summons to appear before the magistrate. Aristide's lawyers said the former president did not receive the summons, which was sent to his residence, but the judge believed he deliberately chose not to appear.
Aristide and over 30 of his current and former allies have been banned from leaving the country following accusations of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds and laundering drug money.
Aristide's lawyers claim the judge is now obligated to stop all proceedings in the case regarding serious acts of corruption blamed on the former leader, but other lawyers argue that the arrest warrant against Aristide is still valid and that the judge may proceed with the criminal inquiry while relevant judicial authorities examine the request for recusal. The inquiry into Aristide's administration was initiated in 2005.
Following the issue of the arrest warrant on August 13, several hundred militants gathered outside Aristide's residence in the Tabarre district in a show of support for the former leader.
They burned tires and erected barricades, blocking the main street leading to Aristide's home and to the nearby US embassy in Haiti.
"We are here to support president Aristide, the population's leader, and if they want to arrest him, they should arrest all of us," a 36-year-old protester, Marie Jocelyne Charles, told HCNN.
Last week, pro-Aristide protesters also attacked a UN vehicle, prompting two UN staff to flee for their lives. UN soldiers, in armoured vehicles, were immediately deployed in the area to restore order.