Haiti bids to halt return of Baby Doc's millions
Duncan Campbell in London and Angelique Chrisafis in ParisTHE Haitian government is making frantic efforts to stop millions of pound sheld in Swiss bank accounts that is being handed over in early June to the former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. They claim that Jean-Claude, nicknamed "Baby Doc", looted the money from Haiti when he fled to exile in France in 1986.
The money, 7.6 m Swiss francs, has been frozen for the past five years as the Haitian government has argued for its release but it is due to be surrendered to Duvalier tomorrow (JUN03). He is believed to have other hidden bank accounts elsewhere.
"We are going to do our best to get the money back," said the Haitian foreign minister Jean-Renald Clerisme. "It's important to us because we need the money to develop the country."
A spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry said that there had already been two extensions to the freezing of the funds. "Unfortunately, we cannot block the funds for an unlimited time," he said. "Now there is a deadline -that is the law." The money cannot be returned to Haiti without proof that it has been illegally obtained.
A number of NGOs and human rights organisations have called for the Swiss government to intervene to stop the payment.
"This is a scandal," said a joint statement signed by Christian Aid, the Haiti Support Group and others. "Two years ago, the Swiss government signed an agreement for the repatriation of US$458m to Nigeria in assets stolen by the late head of state, General Sani Abacha. When the agreement was signed, the Swiss government stated that 'Switzerland is open and committed ... to making the return of these funds established international practice'. This new development shows that Switzerland is not able to fulfil such a commitment."
"Mr Duvalier's lawyer in Switzerland, Alain Macaluso, said: "Mr Duvalier is happy that after five years the Swiss government, which had made a political decision to freeze his funds, has now finally conformed with the law." But he added that it was unlikely Mr Duvalier would be able to accessthe funds in the immediate future.
Duvalier became president for life at the age of 19 in 1971 after the death of his notorious father, Francois, or "Papa Doc", as he was known. He fled into exile in 1986, taking with him, according to the current Haitian government, tens of millions of dollars looted from the national treasury.
Initially, he lived with his then wife and family in a villa in Mougins, near Cannes, driving a Ferrari Testarossa and indulging in playboy prodigality in Paris hotels and jewellery stores. An expensive divorce and his own extravagance are believed to have already used up many millions.
He has denied stealing the money and organising the murder of opponents.
"If I were a dictator, I would have done everything in my power to stay in power," he told the Wall Street Journal in 2003. "I laugh when I hear the amounts: $400m, $800m. It's a lot of blah, blah, blah ... There were the children to care for, school expenses, other bills." He added: "We were not perfect - perhaps I was too tolerant.
Duvalier is thought to be living in an apartment in Paris with his French fiancee, Veronique Roy, who traveled to Haiti this year to attend a meeting of a handful of die-hard supporters on the island who campaign for the dictator's return.
Haiti is one of the world's poorest countries, with 78% of thepopulation living on less than $2 a day.Guardian News & Media 2007