How strong are charges against Haiti's Jean-Claude Duvalier? Very, say experts.
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (aka 'Baby Doc') was charged in court Tuesday with embezzlement, corruption, and misappropriation of funds. 'It’s fairly easy to pursue legally,' says one expert.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
He is accused of going as far as stealing checks intended for the poor to help him amass hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign accounts that allowed him to live luxuriously while in exile.
But the same disregard for the law that made him a multimillionaire could make the case against him relatively easy to prosecute, observers tell the Monitor.
“He was fairly careful to hide the assets abroad, but he was not that careful to hide the way he acquired them,” says Brian Concannon, a human rights lawyer and director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). “I am confident that this case can be prosecuted, it’s fairly easy to pursue legally because it’s been documented.”
IN PICTURES: Baby Doc returns
Dramatically detained and formally charged in court on Tuesday by Haitian authorities, just two days after unexpectedly returning from exile, Mr. Duvalier’s future is now being weighed by a judge who will decide whether to pursue the accusations of embezzlement, corruption, and misappropriation of funds, among other alleged crimes. The process could take months.
“His fate is now in the hands of the investigating judge. We have brought charges against him,” Aristidas Auguste, Port-au-Prince's chief prosecutor, told reporters Tuesday.
Supporters: Duvalier is innocent
Gervais Charles, an attorney who has represented Duvalier in the past, confirmed the case had been filed but said a statute of limitations had expired, which would make void any charges. Duvalier was freed but he had no passport to travel, Mr. Charles told reporters. Haitian officials did not address Charles’s statute of limitations claims, the Associated Press reported.
"What will happen to [Duvalier] is entirely the responsibility of [President René] Préval and his executive cabinet," Duvalier spokesman Henry Robert Sterlin told reporters Tuesday. "What those in power want is the destabilization of the country."
At the end of the day, Duvalier returned to the posh Karibe Hotel in the Petionville neighborhood, which had served as the backdrop for a dramatic scene that morning when police entered Duvalier’s room as a small contingent of his supporters gathered in front of the hotel, yelling “the revolution is going to start” and “arrest Préval,” a reference to the unpopular president.
Duvalier's return ticket to France was reportedly booked for Thursday, though he must remain in country for at least as long as the case investigation period.
His continued presence will likely be welcome news to supporters that gathered Tuesday, many who were too young to remember Duvalier in power. They seemed drawn by nostalgia and embellished memories of the Duvalier era, which lasted for nearly 30 years. “Baby Doc” Duvalier became the round-faced successor to the regime when he took over from his father at the age of 19.
“I came here for President Duvalier, who left Haiti 25 years ago and I’m happy he came back,” says Pierre Willy, a protester who gathered in downtown Port-au-Prince to support Duvalier. “All these people that were killed, it wasn’t Duvalier that did it. He was just the son of a president then.”