Haiti corruption, drug trafficking: Former leader banned from leaving country

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and several of his former allies have been banned from leaving the Haitian territory as part of a criminal inquiry into serious cases of corruption, misappropriation of public funds and drug trafficking from 2001 to 2004, as several dozen have been summoned to appear for questioning in the Caribbean country, HCNN has learned.

Nearly 40 people, many of them linked to the Aristide Foundation for Democracy from 2001 and 2004, have been summoned to appear before investigating judge Lamarre Belizaire who banned the suspects and persons of interest from traveling abroad, according to officials familiar with the issue at the Immigration Office.

The judge’s ruling, banning several dozen people from leaving the country, was issued on August 4, 2014 and would not personally include former president Aristide, even though he is considered the main suspect in the ongoing criminal investigation.

The list includes former director of Aristide Foundation for Democracy, Mirlande Libérus Pavert, Marie Carmel Latouche, former Finance Minister Faubert Gustave, former Palace security Chief Jean Nesly Lucien, for Prime minister Yvon Neptune, former security Chief Oriel Jean, former Aristide’s close ally Ginette Céant.

“It is at the same time sad and amazing to see how much money Aristide and his allies have stolen from the State treasury and the scheme they used to dilapidate the funds,” an independent administrative investigator, who worked on the case in 2005, told the Haitian-Caribbean News Network (HCNN).

Several suspects and persons of interests in the case will be heard by judge Belizaire, on Thursday, while Oriel Jean was interrogated on Wednesday afternoon.

Huge sums of money extracted from the State treasury have been embezzled through the Aristide Foundation for Democracy and figureheads and other bogus organizations allegedly set up by Aristide and his allies to misappropriate public funds, according to documents produced by the Financial and Economic intelligence Unit, known by its French acronym UCREF, and other reports.

“We are talking about huge, but very huge sums of money transferred to fake commercial enterprises and other organizations for services that were delivered and also huge sums transferred to correspondents abroad,” stated the investigator who spoke to HCNN on condition of anonymity.

He explained his shock and that of other colleagues of his when they first found out about the facts.

“Of course, as professionals we did our work with all the serenity necessary, but as citizens we were so shocked to discover what we found out,” reported the investigator who said he once was sympathetic with Aristide for the inspiration and the hope the former leader created when he first came in power in 1991.

Aristide, through his private secretariat at the presidential Palace, would have transferred most of the funds through bank accounts hosted at the Popular Bank of Haiti (Banque Populaire Haitienne, BPH), under the leadership of bank general manager, Rodnée Deschineau, who acknowledged many of the accusations during a hearing with Administrative investigators, according to documented testimonies.

Then the money would have landed on the bank accounts of fake enterprises such as Se pa’n Provisions Alimentaires, Quiskeya store, a so-called VGLS company, Socol S.A., COCSOBFO, all linked to the Aristide Foundation which had also directly received significant amounts, according to an official administrative report

“I was never involved with partisan politics, but when president Aristide first came in power, I was still a student and I saw my image in him when I consider where he came from to get where he was,” he stated. “Probably, that is why my shock was even greater,” he added.

Several of the people targeted by the investigation and concerned by judge Belizaire’s conservatory measures are no longer living in Haiti. That is the case for Mirlande Libérus Pavert who is living in Florida.

Judge Belizaire has refused to answer questions or to comment about the case for “legal and ethical reasons”, but HCNN has confirmed with judicial sources that accusations against Aristide have been very well documented and that administrative investigations conducted years ago show concrete evidence of misappropriation of public funds and money laundering.

The investigation started in 2005, following the ouster, in Feb. 2004, of Aristide who was inaugurated in 2001 for a second five-year presidential term, after serving as president in 1991 before being toppled on September 30, which had marked his 7th month in office.

A new anti-corruption law, pushed by Prime minister Laurent Lamothe and solemnly promulgated by president Michel Martelly, was passed earlier this year to toughen punitive measures against those in the public administration and others found guilty of corrupt practices.

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