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Why 'Baby Doc' Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti: 5 theories

Did 'Baby Doc' Jean-Claude Duvalier unexpectedly return to merely 'see his family,' as his lawyer maintains? Or was it a maneuver to finagle $6.2 million from his frozen Swiss account?

By Alice Speri and Ezra FieserCorrespondents / January 19, 2011

Haiti's former dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier talks by phone on the balcony of his hotel room in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 19. Duvalier returned Sunday to Haiti after nearly 25 years in exile, a move that comes as his country struggles with a political crisis and the stalled effort to recover from last year's devastating earthquake.

Ramon Espinosa/AP

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s surprise return to Haiti after nearly 25 years has baffled observers and spurred dueling theories over why the former dictator returned now.

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What could have motivated Mr. Duvalier to walk into a hornet’s nest? While no one outside Duvalier and his circle know for sure, observers speculate that it could be anything from his ailing finances to health problems or that he is a pawn being used to divert attention from Haiti’s protracted political situation.

“At this stage, we don’t know why he would have come back. Maybe he was testing the waters, planning to come for a few days and leave. We don’t know,” says Susan Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami. “What it has done is make murky waters in Haiti even murkier.”

Theory 1: 'Duvalier came back to see Haiti'

IN PICTURES: Baby Doc returns

Since his Air France flight touched down Sunday evening, Duvalier has not spoken publicly about his motive for coming back to a country he ruled brutally for 15 years before fleeing in 1986 to France. But those close to him say his motives were apolitical and he merely wants to help his country in his twilight years.

“Duvalier came back to Haiti, his country, to see his family and to be with his people," said his attorney, Reynold Georges. Asked if Duvalier planned to return to France, Mr. Georges today told reporters: “No, no, no. He is in his country. As a matter of fact, he is repairing his house to stay.”

Yet, a return to Haiti meant Duvalier, who purportedly stole hundreds of millions in public money and oversaw the murders of thousands of Haitians, would likely face charges for at least some of his alleged crimes. Back in 2007, President René Préval told reporters that Duvalier could return but would have to face justice.

That’s exactly what happened Tuesday when a prosecutor formally filed corruption and embezzlement charges. An investigating judge must now decide whether to pursue the charges.

Theory 2: Visit necessary to access $6.2 million in Swiss account

One of the most logical reasons for Duvalier’s return is financial. The riches he accumulated by allegedly robbing the Haitian government have vanished, leaving him with a modest life in a small apartment in Paris reportedly paid for by loyal supporters.

But, of the hundreds of millions of dollars that he reportedly pilfered from Haiti's state coffers, an estimated $6.2 million remains in a Swiss bank account that has been frozen since 1986.

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