Justice Minister Says Duvalier Stole At Least $120 Million
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Jean-Claude Duvalier stole at least $120 million in 14 years as president- for-life and Haiti will sue in France to get some of it back, Justice Minister Francois St. Fleur said Monday.
Duvalier, 35, fled to France on a U.S. Air Force plane with his wife Michele and four children Feb. 7, 1986, after months of demonstrations against his government.
St. Fleur said $120 million is the amount Haiti and its U.S. lawyers think they can prove Duvalier stole, but some estimates put the former dictator’s personal wealth at several times that. The minister would not estimate how much more might have been stolen.
He also refused to say whether he expects much, or any, of the money to be returned even if French courts decide in Haiti’s favor, but Haiti’s American lawyers said there was a good chance. Virtually nothing has been recovered so far, St. Fleur said.
Most of the money is in banks in the United States, France, Switzerland and the Caribbean, he said.
In the few interviews granted in the past year, the Duvaliers have denied they grew rich by stealing from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
According to St. Fleur, Duvalier accumulated wealth from taxes on such state enterprises as the flour mill, cement factory and lottery.
Former Finance Minister Marc Bazin said in an interview last year that Duvalier got about $1 for every sack of flour the mill produced.
Officials here and in the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, have said Duvalier received up to $2 million a year from the neighboring country for supplying workers to harvest sugar cane. The money was to have been held in escrow for the workers.
American lawyer Curtis Mechling said Duvalier withdrew funds from various state accounts, including national defense, or just wrote checks on the central bank. Mechling is with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, the New York firm that will handle Haiti’s case before a court in Grasse, France, next month.
″The evidence that we have shows that for a number of years the Duvaliers took millions of dollars out of Haiti for their own benefit,″ he said in a recent interview in New York. ″The thrust of this case is ... going to be that Duvalier and his associates stole money from the Haitian government and the Haitian people, and a judgment should be rendered against them.″
″The hope is that other countries will enforce a judgment in Haiti’s favor by the French court,″ Mechling said.
Switzerland has frozen Duvalier’s accounts there and several million dollars have been tied up by U.S. and French courts. ″There is a realistic chance of a substantial recovery of money,″ Mechling said.
Haitian central bank records have been a prime source of information, he said, including a list of hundreds of transactions kept by a clerk who handled the palace account.
Onil Millet, president of the central bank, refused an interview but the director of economic studies, Eddy Etienne, said Haiti’s $258 million budget would come close to balance this year for the first time in 15 years.
Many people had become millionaires by embezzling public funds since Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier founded the family dynasty in 1957, Etienne said.