Judge Al Duniel Dimache, chief investigator in the National Center of Equipment (CNE) funds spending, ordered this week the arrest of over 30 high-ranking former officials in Haiti. In pushing for accountability as a result of an investigative report, he is attempting to lead the biggest trial against corruption in Haiti since the Audubon Stamp Affair in 1975, when 13 people were accused of falsifying documents, embezzlement, and fraud.

According to a court order made public on January 5, 2024, 36 people have been charged with corruption, complicity in corruption, and influence peddling linked to the misappropriation of 78 public properties as well as usurpation of office linked to the violation of the Haitian laws. The probe into the vast scandal of corruption at CNE began on November 15, 2023.

Arrest warrants have been issued against two former presidents – Joseph Michel Martelly and Jocelerme Privert, and former prime ministers such as Michelle Duvivier Pierre-Louis, Laurent Lamothe, Jean Henry Ceant, Jean Michel Lapin, Jean Max Bellerive, Joseph Jouthe, Evans Paul, Enex Jean Charles, Claude Joseph, and Garry Conille in addition to several former ministers, directors, and lawmakers among others. The probe is part of a wide-ranging effort led by the anti-corruption unit, known in French as “Unité de Lutte Contre la Corruption”(ULCC), to address systemic and perennial corruption within governmental institutions in Haiti.

Judge Dimache issued the arrest warrants after the indicted former officials refused to comply with an order to appear before the court on January 5th. Most of the former high-profile officials responded by arguing mainly on social media that the charges were an attempt to tarnish their image. They have denied any wrongdoing and claimed no fault in their management of public affairs.

Parody of Justice

Holding people, especially the most powerful and well-connected ones, accountable in Haiti has always been the biggest challenge for the justice system. So far, only former Prime Minister Claude Joseph and former lawmaker Cholzer Chancy have complied with the prosecutor’s invitation for questioning. They both appeared in court on Monday and claimed their innocence. They, however, stated that they were willing to cooperate with investigators.

“That it is a matter of principle; anyone who believes himself to be above the law is implicitly deemed to be outside the law, given the facts with which he or she is accused”, explained Al Duniel Dimanche.

If Judge Dimanche manages to bring those former officials to court for trial, this will be an even bigger success than the $23 million Stamp scandal trial that took place in Haiti under the Duvalier regime from August 26 to September 11, 1975. That trial, most commonly known as “Le Procès des Timbres” or “L’Affaire Audubon”, was staged by the Jean-Claude Duvalier “Baby Doc” government after a public lawyer and stamp collector reported the selling of suspicious stamps in the world market.

Fraudsters, including Duvalier’s sister Nicole and members of his government such as ambassador to Spain, General Claude Raymond, Internal Revenue Chief Franck Sterling, Port-au-Prince Airport Security Chief Gabriel Brunet, and Haitian Consul in Miami Eugene “Sonson” Maximilien, faked exquisite renderings of bird watercolors by native son Jean-Jacques Audubon and put them on sale.

As a result of the jury-less trial, which was the first televised trial in Haiti, four people used as scapegoats were theatrically found guilty. Judge Rock Raymond hit them with long prison sentences in addition to heavy fines. This was an arranged trial to satisfy international collectors and create publicity to boost the stamp value. The convicted fraudsters were released early from comfortable jail cells, while the main figures in the scheme escaped unscathed. No one even mentioned Nicole Duvalier’s name during the trial, even though she amassed the largest share ($4 million) of fortune from the sales of fake stamps.

In addition to the CNE case, two other big cases are still pending. One is the investigation into the diversion of the Petro-Caribe funds, and the other is the quest for justice against the assassins of President Jovenel Moise.

Fritznel Octave

January 9, 2024

See insightsHaiti: Audubon Stamp Scandal (webster.edu)

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