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7 March 2012

PORT-AU-PRINCE/MIAMI (Reuters) - A Haitian banker whose son is cooperating with authorities in a major bribery investigation involving former Haitian government officials has been shot and killed, police said on Wednesday.

Venel Joseph was shot on his way home in the capital, Port-au-Prince, late on Tuesday, said police spokesman Gary Desrosiers. Authorities are investigating the circumstances of the shooting, he said.

Joseph served as the governor of Haiti’s central bank under former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

His son, Patrick Joseph, the former director general of Haiti Teleco, former the state-run telephone company, pleaded guilty to bribery charges last month in a Miami federal court.

He agreed to cooperate with authorities probing an alleged multimillion-dollar bribery and money-laundering scheme involving two Florida-based telecommunications companies and former officials at Haiti’s state-run telephone company, according to court documents.

Prosecutors allege the companies paid out millions of dollars in kickbacks to Haitian government officials to obtain favorable rates from Haiti Teleco.

A former Haiti Teleco official went on trial this week in Miami on charges of money laundering. The case against Jean Rene Duperval is part of a broader investigation led by the Justice Department that involves several ex-Aristide officials.

If convicted, Duperval, a former director of international relations at Haiti Teleco, could face up to 20 years in prison. Richard Dansoh, a lawyer for Duperval, declined to comment on the case.

On Sunday, The Miami Herald, citing legal sources, reported Aristide was tied to the probe. The Herald identified him as an unnamed government official mentioned in court documents as having received a payment. The newspaper also identified Venel Joseph as another unidentified government official involved in the scheme.

A lawyer for Aristide denied the allegations, which could not be independently confirmed. Ira Kurzban, Aristide’s Miami-based lawyer, said he would not comment on the bribery investigation, noting his client had not been charged. But he added, “If you look at the indictment, there is not one shred of evidence that Aristide received a cent.”

Last year, the former president of Terra Telecommunications Corp., one of the Florida companies, was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the bribery scheme.

Prosecutors said that from November 2001 through March 2005, the company paid more than $890,000 to shell companies that were used as kickbacks to Haitian government officials.

Officials have also charged a second company, Cinergy Telecommunications Inc, and several of its executives with money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S-linked firms with bribing foreign officials.

Haiti Teleco, which was privatized in 2010 and is now controlled by Vietnamese military-run company Viettel, was the sole provider of land-line telephone service in the Caribbean country.

Last week, thousands of Aristide supporters took to the streets of Haiti’s capital, marking the eighth anniversary of his ouster amid Haitian media reports he could face charges for corruption during his rule.

Haitian government officials denied the Haitian radio and TV reports of Aristide being targeted in an investigation.

A former Roman Catholic priest still popular among the poor, Aristide was first elected president in 1991 and served two terms before he was ousted from power by former soldiers in 2004.

Aristide returned to Haiti last year after seven years in exile in South Africa.


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