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5 March 2012

- Jay Weaver

The senior official in Haiti’s state-owned telecommunications company was supposed to make a salary of $25,000 a year.
But in 2003-04, Haiti Teleco’s director of international relations, Jean Rene Duperval, pocketed $500,000 in alleged bribes from two Miami businesses that in turn received discounted long-distance phone rates and renewed contracts, a federal prosecutor said Monday.

“It will be a picture of greed, corruption and deception,” prosecutor James Koukios told a 12-member jury in Miami federal court at the start of Duperval’s money-laundering trial. “It will be a picture of crime.”

Duperval, who has a home in Miramar, is the first Haitian official to face trial in a foreign corruption case brought by the Justice Department — the result of a criminal investigation into bribery allegations against him and other officials, including Haiti’s former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The ex-president has not been charged.

Koukios promised the jury that prosecutors would supply evidence of Duperval’s business favors for Terra Telecommunications and Cinergy Telecommunications in exchange for kickbacks, including how the defendant set up a “shell” company and bank accounts through his sister to funnel the illegal payments.

“If Terra and Cinergy were going to make money, then he was going to make money, too,” Koukios said. “All the money can be traced back to Terra and Cinergy.”

But the attorney for Duperval, who was born and raised in Haiti and received an engineering degree in New York, painted a starkly different portrait of his client. John Bergendahl said if anything, Duperval helped turn around Haiti Teleco by renegotiating better terms for the state-owned telecom company between June 2003 and April 2004.

Bergendahl said that the jury must not find his client guilty because he did not receive bribery payments from Terra and Cinergy and therefore did not commit money laundering.He added that prosecutors have alleged that Duperval “misused his authority to give [Terra and Cinergy] a benefit. The evidence is not going to show any such thing.”

The defense attorney argued that the Haitian official who did fit that profile was Robert Antoine, who had served as Haiti Teleco’s director of international relations before Duperval in the Aristide administration.

In 2010, Antoine pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering, admitting he took more than $1 million in bribes from Terra and Cinergy in exchange for lower phone rates, discounted costs and contract renewals.

Prosecutors plan to call Antoine, who was sentenced to four years in prison, as a witness in Duperval’s trial later this week.

They also plan to call Duperval’s sister, Marguerite Grandison, a University of Miami dietician who works at Jackson Memorial Hospital, as a witness against her brother.

Grandison was also charged with money laundering for setting up a dummy company called Telecom Consulting and bank accounts for her brother. In exchange for her testimony, prosecutors will drop her charges and require her to pay a $19,000 fine, according to her attorney, Roderick Vereen.

If convicted, her brother could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.


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