Originally: Haiti: Corruption Probes Sought
PORT-AU-PRINCE – Justice Minister Bernard Gousse Thursday said he has officially requested corruption inquiries against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and twenty-eight of his friends and government officials.
Gousse told The Herald that he had sent investigating judges a list of twenty-nine people that his own investigators regarded as key suspects in allegations of massive corruption against the Aristide government.
Asked if the list of suspects included Aristide, Gousse said it included not only those who allegedly stole government money but those who organized the corruption.
”You have the organizers, so you have Mr. Aristide as an organizer,” he said.
Although Gousse and other members of the interim government that replaced Aristide early last year have repeatedly accused the former president of corruption, this was the first time that any government member officially named Aristide as a suspect in the investigations.
In Miami, Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban, dismissed the allegation.
”Any trumped-up political proceeding against President Aristide, who was elected by the Haiti people, has no credibility,” he said.
The former president now lives in exile in South Africa.
Gousse said the list also included former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, now jailed in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and former Aristide security chief Oriel Jean, imprisoned in Miami while facing drug-trafficking charges. Gousse declined to provide the names of other suspects who are not in custody.
The Herald reported last month that Gousse and Jean-Yves Nol, head of an investigative unit that has been acting as a liaison with U.S. investigators, had put together a list of 29 corruption suspects.
Gousse said Thursday that the list had been turned over to investigative judges, who in the Haitian judicial system act somewhat like U.S. grand juries. The judges will decide whether there’s enough evidence to file charges, and if so, hand the cases to prosecutors and trial judges. The investigative judges could take action on the cases, such as issuing arrest warrants, as soon as next month, Gousse said.
TWO KEY ENTITIES
Gousse said the list of 29 suspects also included officials at the National Port Authority and the state telephone company, Teleco, both long reputed to be key sources of corruption under Aristide.
Some of the money, he added, went to groups of civilian supporters that Aristide called ”bases” and that his critics branded as armed thugs known as chiméres, or monsters.
”There was a chimére that got a check every 15 days from the [port authority] from November 2003 through February 2004,” Gousse said. “Every 15 days, five million gourdes [about $139,000]. This was for distribution to other chiméres.”
Gousse said the investigative judges will also look into Kiskeya Store, whose bank account received an $800,000 government check in 2003.
He would not reveal the name of the store owner but said he was also wanted on drug-trafficking charges and that the shop, in fact, did not really exist.
”We went to check out the address,” Gousse said, “and found only a tire-repair man sitting on a curb.”