Miami bribery probe zeroes in on haiti's ex-leader aristide
Miami bribery probe zeroes in on Haiti's ex-leader Aristide Miami bribery probe zeroes in on Haiti's ex-leader Aristide
Date de mise en ligne : Tuesday 6 March 2012
Haiti Info Miami bribery probe zeroes in on Haiti's ex-leader Aristide
Former Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is once again in the cross hairs of the U.S. government, this time for
allegedly pocketing millions of dollars in bribes from Miami businesses that brokered long-distance phone deals with
Haiti's government-owned telecommunications company, according to court records and legal sources. Aristide is not
identified by name in a recent federal indictment charging four South Florida business people and two former Haitian
government officials. But defense attorneys say "Official B" referenced in the corruption- and money-laundering
indictment is indeed the ex-president.
According to the indictment, Official B and senior officials of Haiti Teleco, the telecommunications company owned by
Haiti's Central Bank, allegedly received payments totaling about $2.3 million from Miami businesses Cinergy
Telecommunications and Uniplex Telecom Technologies. The businesses are accused of using "shell" companies to
kick back the money to those officials.
Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban, declined to comment about the Justice Department's investigation because the
ex-president hasn't been charged with any crime. But, Kurzban said: "I view this as part of the same smear campaign
that the United States has orchestrated against Aristide since he was first elected in 1990."
The indictment alleges that the bribes were passed to Aristide via "Company A," a reference to Digitek, a suspected
front owned by Aristide's brother-in-law, Lesly Lavelanet. He could not be reached for comment at his Coral Springs
Since an earlier related indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in 2009, a dozen South Florida business
people and Haitian officials have been charged in the high-profile case, alleging the payment of kickbacks in
exchange for discounted long-distance phone rates. Profits from those lower rates were pocketed by the Haitian
officials not the government's phone company. So far, seven of those defendants have been convicted of corruption
or money laundering, including Patrick Joseph, who pleaded guilty in February to accepting bribes. Joseph is
cooperating with Justice Department lawyers and is a crucial witness in the investigation of Aristide, according to
Joseph, who served as Aristide's director general of Haiti Teleco in March 2001 to June 2003, has told U.S.
authorities that he shared some of those kickbacks with the former president, the sources said. Joseph's father,
Venel Joseph, appointed by Aristide, was the governor of the Bank of Haiti, the central bank, during that period and is
referenced in the indictment as "Official A.''
The Central Bank was used to distribute the kickbacks paid by the Miami businesses, the indictment says.
Patrick Joseph's Miami attorneys, Guy Lewis and Richard Dansoh, declined to comment. Justice Department officials
At Joseph's plea hearing last month, a prosecutor said "half" or $1 million of the alleged kickbacks were "intended"
for "Official B, an official in the executive branch of the Haitian government."
"In exchange for these bribes, Official B and Joseph provided Uniplex and Cinergy with various business
advantages, including an exclusive agreement to market certain calling cards at a favorable rate," Justice
Department lawyer James Koukios said in court.
"In addition, Joseph was aware of and agreed that additional bribe payments to Official B would be laundered
Miami bribery probe zeroes in on Haiti's ex-leader Aristide
through Company A," Koukios said, without mentioning Digitek by name.
The revelation that federal officials are still pursuing Aristide, years after a U.S. grand jury investigation failed to nab
him on drug-trafficking and money-laundering allegations, comes at a politically charged time in Haiti.
Haitian media reported last week that President Michel Martelly's government had indicted Aristide for corruption and
drug trafficking during his rule, immediately triggering anger among his supporters. Haiti's justice minister told The
Miami Herald the reports were false.
Still, thousands marched through the streets of Haiti's capital Wednesday, singing pro-Aristide slogans while bashing
Martelly, to mark the eighth anniversary of Aristide's ouster from power on Feb. 29, 2004. The demonstration the
biggest anti-Martelly protest since he came to power in May showed that Aristide still enjoys a measure of
popularity. He returned to Haiti from South Africa last March over the strong objections of the Obama administration.
Before it was privatized last year at the behest of the U.S. government, Haiti Teleco was a corruption-plagued,
money-losing company that fueled the bank accounts of its executives. Fewer than 2 percent of Haitians had service
from its landline monopoly, but it had a lucrative long-distance business. After the January 2010 earthquake, the
company finally got a lifeline when a firm named Viettel, run by Vietnam's military, bought a major stake in the entity,
reducing Haiti's shares to 40 percent.
The controversy over Haiti Teleco's corrupt past will play out again Monday, when a former senior executive, Jean
René Duperval, faces trial on money-laundering charges in Miami federal court as part of the initial indictment. He is
accused of receiving bribes from the same Miami businesses.
The trial of Duperval, Haiti Teleco's former director of international relations, highlights the Justice Department's
persistence in pursuing the bribery case and Aristide.
Some question the zeal. But Alex Dupuy, a sociology professor at Wesleyan University who has written about the
two-time ex-president, said "if they have solid evidence of his involvement in bribery or other criminal activities, they
should indict him and bring him to justice."
The U.S. government may be sending a signal to Aristide, called Titid by his admirers, to think twice about trying to
re-enter the political scene, observers said.
"The display of popular support for Aristide is very worrisome to the U.S., so indicting Titid before a potential
comeback makes perfect sense," said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia.
Still, unless the Justice Department has an air-tight case, arresting Aristide could have volatile consequences,
Corruption and drug-trafficking charges have long dogged Aristide.
Haiti's interim government produced four blistering reports from two government investigative commissions, alleging
he had embezzled more than $20 million of his country's meager public funds.
But the Haitian government's financial watchdog agency could not prove the allegations. Also, a civil lawsuit filed in
Miami bribery probe zeroes in on Haiti's ex-leader Aristide
Miami by the interim government, gained no traction.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors investigated Aristide for allegedly accepting bribes from drug traffickers. But they
could not make their case because of a lack of financial documents to back up convicted cocaine kingpin Jacques
Ketant's accusations, according to sources familiar with that probe.
Now, the mere mention of Aristide as Official B in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act indictment filed by the Justice
Department in January marks the first time he has been implicated in the U.S. bribery investigation into Haiti's
state-owned telecommunications company.
From 2001 to 2004, "Official B was an official in the executive branch of the Haitian government," says the
indictment, describing the exact period of Aristide's second term as president."I am led to believe that Official B is the
former president of Haiti, Aristide," said veteran Miami criminal defense attorney Joel Hirschhorn, who represents
Cinergy and two of its executives in the case.
"There is no doubt that Official B is Aristide based on the language in the indictment," said Miami lawyer David
Weinstein, who was the chief of narcotics in the U.S. Attorney's Office during the past decade. He and other
prosecutors won convictions against several Haitian government and police officials for accepting payoffs from drug
traffickers, who used the country to ship cocaine to the United States.
But Weinstein cautioned that the Justice Department will face daunting challenges in making a money-laundering
case against Aristide, even if the cooperating witness, Joseph, points investigators in the right direction.
There is a looming deadline in the probe because of the statute of limitations. Also crucial: Internal Revenue Service
agents must find bank or financial records to show that Aristide received payments, if he did.
"Without someone producing a picture of him taking the money or agents uncovering a bank account directly linking
him to payments, they are going to have a hard time building a case to win a conviction," Weinstein said.
Last week, Hirschhorn succeeded in getting Cinergy dismissed as a defendant before Monday's trial.
"My clients' dealings with Haiti Teleco were perfectly legitimate," said Hirschhorn, who added that Cinergy's top
executives, now fugitives in Brazil, only met Aristide once for a brief moment. "They helped Haiti Teleco get through
some very difficult and trying times."
Jacqueline Charles and Jay Weaver
P I A D E H N E __________________________________________________ Born in Düsseldorf , Germany, Pia Dehne received her Master of Fine Arts from and studied 1988 -1994 under Professor Markus Lüpertz at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany. Dehne later lived in Berlin, and after her second solo exhibition at Gallery Achim Kubinski there in 1999 she moved to New York. She currently lives
International Division 2006-07 PI Name & Institution Address Duration Total Cost (in RS.) Prof R K Somashekar, Bangalore University, Bangalore and Prof Lidia Environmental Sciences, University of Venice, VeniceSynthesis and characterization of Nano Dr VPS Awana, National Physical INT/ITALY/POC/2005-07)/BS- metals on nutrient absorbtion in plants : and Prof Franco Gamable, Rese