Originally: Lawsuit Against Former President Aristide
The Republic of Haiti (Haiti) and Telecommunications d?Haiti S.A.M. (Teleco) filed yesterday day a civil action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The lawsuit seeks to account for wrongs to, and recover money stolen from, the people and Government of Haiti by the former President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide (“Aristide”), and others acting in concert with him, including his former Minister of Finance, Faubert Gustave and several other accomplices. Teleco is a telecommunications company owned by the Government of Haiti and operated as a government monopoly.
The Prime Minister of Haiti, Gerard Latortue declared: ?This lawsuit turns a new page for the Republic of Haiti. No longer will leaders who break the law go unpunished. Ours is a nation of laws, and every person, even the President, will be held accountable for his actions. This Government will not look the other way when we discover that our leaders have abused the trust the people of this Republic have reposed in them. We will vigorously pursue all of our rights against Mr. Aristide and those who acted with him, prove our allegations in a court of law, and act to remedy those wrongs.?
Haiti, which is represented by the international law firm of Winston & Strawn, alleges in its U.S. lawsuit that Aristide and his accomplices violated the U.S. federal anti-racketeering act, RICO, and laws against money-laundering by sending millions of dollars in embezzled funds to the United States, by stealing tens of millions of dollars in revenues from Teleco and conspiring with U.S. and Canadian phone companies in causing them to deposit kickbacks into off-shore bank accounts in return for Teleco business. It also alleges that Aristide and his associates oversaw and profited from drug-running from South America through Haiti to the United States.
Aristide was elected President of Haiti for a five-year term from February 1991 to February 1996. In September 1991, he was forced into exile by a military coup, led by generals Raoul Cedras and Philippe Biamby. In September 1994, a U.S.-led force acting under a U.N. resolution invaded Haiti to oust the military regime and restore the Aristide presidency. Shortly thereafter, Aristide returned to Haiti to serve the remainder of his first term, which ended in February 1996. From February 1996 to February 2001, Aristide’s close associate and former Prime Minister, Rene Preval (“Preval”), served as President of Haiti. Also in 1996, During Preval’s term as President, Aristide continued to function as the de facto President of Haiti, through Preval, Lafanmi Lavalas and others.
The complaint alleges that as President of Haiti, and to a certain extent during the interregnum rule of Preval, Aristide controlled virtually all of the valuable assets of the Government of Haiti. From 2001 or earlier, and continuing at least until February 2004, Aristide, with the assistance and cooperation of government officials and others hand picked by him for this purpose, used his power to conduct a campaign of looting against the public treasury and the Haitian people by repeatedly directing government agencies to falsely claim that they needed to expend public funds for legitimate purposes and then, as intended, converting those funds, in whole or in part, to the benefit of himself and/or his supporters, family, friends or other accomplices. The misappropriated funds were frequently diverted and laundered through fictitious companies, established for this purpose by Aristide and his accomplices, both in Haiti and the United States. In all, Aristide and his accomplices stole tens of millions of dollars from the public treasury and transferred a large portion of those funds to the United States.
Over the same time period, Aristide, once again with the assistance of government officials he had appointed for this purpose and others, diverted to the benefit of himself and others revenues rightfully belonging to Teleco. In order to do this, Aristide installed his accomplices in management positions within Teleco, and Aristide and those accomplices then caused Teleco to enter into agreements with certain U.S. and Canadian telecommunications carriers, granting them significantly reduced rates for services provided by Teleco in exchange for kickbacks, which further reduced those rates. Teleco revenues were the principal source of urgently needed foreign currency for Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. As a result of the scheme, Haiti and Teleco received only part of the telecommunications revenue to which they were entitled.
Also in exchange for bribes and kickbacks, Aristide and his accomplices provided safe passage for transshipments of illegal drugs to the U.S. and appointed drug traffickers to important posts in the security services of the Haitian Government, from which they could insure the safety of their trafficking operations.
The fraudulent schemes orchestrated by Aristide against the people and the Government of Haiti were in many ways connected to and conducted in the United States. Aristide and his accomplices set up fictitious and shell companies in the U.S. to serve as fronts for the interests of the Aristide Group, transferred stolen public funds to and through those front companies as well as legitimate U.S. companies, used the accounts of U.S. companies in Haiti and made extensive use of the U.S. banking system to assist in the laundering and conversion of public funds. Further, Aristide and his accomplices demanded and received substantial bribes and kickbacks from U.S. telecommunications carriers, which were wire transferred from U.S. banks, and profited from drug trafficking in and with the United States.
Haiti and Teleco seek redress for these wrongs in the form of treble damages for these violations of law, compensatory and punitive damages for conversion, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, and equitable relief in the form of an accounting, the imposition of a constructive trust and the entry of a permanent injunction against Aristide and the other defendants.
Jean-Junior Joseph, directeur
Bureau de Presse et de la Communication du Premier Ministre