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28534: Simidor (news): Aristide, target of drug probe (fwd)

From: Daniel Simidor, <danielsimidor@yahoo.com>

This is becoming predictable.  Whenever Aristide
cranks up the pressure for his safe return back to
Haiti, the Bush administration rattles his chain (his
alleged drug connection) as a reminder.  At which
point the pressure on the chain always goes slack on
both ends.  There is a Haitian saying: Creole pale,
Creole konprann...

Personally I think it is beyond doubt that, given
Aristide?s dependency on the Steele Foundation?s
mercenaries for his close proximity security between
2001 and 2004, the US already have the goods on
Aristide.  It is anyone?s guess why the Bush people
prefer to rattle his chains instead of reeling him in.

I?m also convinced that the Miami Herald?s unfailing
relationship with attorney Kurzban has more to do with
their own lack of credibility than with anything Mr.
Kurzban could ever own up to.  I mean do you expect a
lawyer to ever confess: ?My client is really a crook,
here?s a refund to the Haitian people??

Miami Herald article follows:

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Target of drug probe: Aristide



Jean-Bertrand Aristide was a modern-day Moses to
Haiti's poor masses, a former Catholic priest who rose
to the presidency by promising to wash away the
country's bloody and corrupt past.

But since his ouster as president in 2004, U.S.
authorities have been investigating detailed accounts
that allege that Aristide and several top aides sought
and took millions of dollars in bribes from drug
traffickers in Haiti, The Miami Herald has learned.
So far, a federal grand jury probe in Miami has led to
22 convictions of mostly Haitian drug traffickers,
ex-police officers and a high-ranking politician close
to Aristide. Although the exiled former president is a
main target of the ongoing investigation, he has not
been charged.

The allegations against the ex-president come from
numerous sources, but the evidence has not risen to a
level to press a case against Aristide, say U.S. law
enforcement officials, who have been hampered by a
lack of financial records.

Still, The Miami Herald has learned from interviews
with about 20 law enforcement officials, defense
lawyers and others involved in the case that Aristide
has been accused of being at the center of his
country's narco-trafficking and money-laundering
activities between 2001 and 2004.

Authorities have gathered evidence, including
testimony by cooperating defendants convicted in the
case, alleging that:

? Soon after he took office in early 2001, Aristide
held a meeting at his Port-au-Prince home with his
presidential security chief, two government security
advisors, the national police chief and a district
commander to organize a scheme to shake down Colombian
and Haitian drug smugglers for kickbacks for both his
personal and political activities.

? Drug traffickers bribed Aristide to turn a blind eye
to shipments of Colombian cocaine through Haiti,
directly paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars
in cash during regular visits to his home.

? Convicted drug kingpin Beaudouin ''Jacques'' Ketant
personally delivered $500,000 a month in a Samsonite
suitcase to Aristide's home, he told authorities. He
said the suitcase had a combination lock set to 7-7-7
at Aristide's request because that was his favorite

? Traffickers gave Aristide $200,000 to buy a
helicopter in 2002, but the president pocketed the
money and instead used government funds to rent a
copter from Miami-based Biscayne Helicopters. Those
same traffickers also bought a $75,000 ambulance in
Miami that was shipped to Haiti for the president's
private charitable Aristide Foundation.

? Traffickers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars
on carnival festivities in February 2002 that were
arranged by the Aristide government. They also paid
for some of Aristide's July birthday celebrations, his
Lavalas Family Party and his foundation.

? At Aristide's direction, some of the traffickers'
bribes helped buy weapons smuggled into Haiti to equip
national police officers as well as pro-Aristide
street gangs that harassed his opponents during his
second term as president, between 2001 and 2004,
according to former Haitian law enforcement officials
and drug traffickers who are cooperating with U.S.


Lawyer for Aristide says he wasn't interested in

Aristide's longtime lawyer, Ira Kurzban, said he does
not believe the allegations against the former

Speaking generally, Kurzban said that the federal
prosecution is politically motivated and that the U.S.
government's witnesses are ''liars'' seeking to reduce
their prison sentences by fingering the former
president in their money-laundering and cocaine

''It is inconceivable to me that Aristide would do
anything for personal gain,'' Kurzban said, commenting
on the ex-president's character. ``He was not a person
interested in money.''

To be sure, the U.S. investigation has been built on
testimony from many of the 22 mostly Haitian cocaine
smugglers, police officers and others convicted in
Miami over the past 2 ½ years. The probe, spearheaded
by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with help
from the Internal Revenue Service, has focused on
cocaine smuggling during Aristide's second
presidential term.

The investigation continues as the Haitian government
carries out its own separate inquiry into the Aristide
administration and foundation records, so far
concluding that the president had looted government
coffers, Haitian government records show. The interim
government that replaced Aristide two years ago filed
suit in Miami last year to recover ''tens of millions
of dollars'' allegedly stolen by the former president
and others from Haiti's treasury and its phone
company. Neither the Haitian investigation nor the
civil suit alleges drug trafficking.

To this day, the 52-year-old Aristide remains
intensely popular in Haiti and has expressed a desire
to return home from exile in South Africa after the
recent election of President René Préval, once an
Aristide ally. That would upset Haiti's domestic
politics and Préval's relations with the U.S. and
French governments, which regard Aristide as a
destabilizing factor in Haiti.


Probers report absence of incriminating records.

While several witnesses have testified against the
former president in the U.S. drug-trafficking probe,
investigators have told The Miami Herald that they
have yet to uncover bank records and other financial
statements that support the claims. The absence of
such documents to solidify their case against Aristide
has prevented authorities from seeking a federal
indictment in Miami, U.S. law enforcement officials

Efforts to reach Aristide for comment on this story
failed. Kurzban, who represented the Haitian
government as its lawyer from 1991 to 2004, said he
did not believe that the ex-president would agree to
an interview.

Kurzban, who still speaks on Aristide's behalf, said
that while people in Haiti were well aware of the
country's drug-trafficking problem, it came as a
''shock'' to him when he learned that Aristide and
others in his government became targets of a U.S.
criminal investigation.

He said that, if anything, Aristide cooperated with
the federal government in the crackdown on cocaine
smuggling in 2003, including allowing Ketant to be
turned over to U.S. authorities. He said that money
donated to the Aristide Foundation went to the poor
for relief programs such as rice subsidies.

Haiti, an impoverished country where cash and
corruption go hand in hand, has long been a
significant transit point for Colombian cocaine headed
for U.S. streets. From there, it is sometimes smuggled
directly to the United States. Another route: from
Haiti to the Dominican Republic, west to Puerto Rico
and then to the U.S. mainland.

During Aristide's second term as president, an
estimated 10 percent of all cocaine smuggled into the
United States flowed through the Caribbean corridor,
especially Haiti, according to a 2006 federal report
by the National Drug Intelligence Center.

Shortly after the Aristide government turned over
Ketant to U.S. officials, the U.S. government
broadened its drug investigation by looking into the
Aristide leadership.

It was during a 2004 sentencing in federal court in
Miami that Ketant accused Aristide of turning Haiti
into a ''narco-country'' and being a ''drug lord.''
Not under oath at the time, Ketant was sentenced to 27
years in prison and to pay $30 million in fines and

Behind the scenes, he began to cooperate as a key
witness for prosecutors, providing details on his
alleged payoffs to Aristide and others in exchange for
a free hand shipping cocaine through Haiti to the
United States. His testimony triggered some of the
indictments against the 21 others on money-laundering
or cocaine-smuggling charges, U.S. law enforcement
officials said.

Another major witness was Aristide's former security
chief, Oriel Jean, who was convicted last year in a
separate federal case of money-laundering and
sentenced to three years. He fingered the same drug
traffickers, police officials and politicians --
including Aristide.
And during his testimony at two Miami trials last
year, he linked Aristide to at least two people
implicated in Haiti's drug trade and the U.S.

In sworn testimony at those trials, Jean said he was
introduced in late 2001 or early 2002 to one drug
lord, Serge Edouard, by Hermione Leonard, then the
director of the national police's Port-au-Prince
district and a woman who was close to Aristide.

''She told me that the president is aware that she has
contacts'' with major drug traffickers, he testified
at Edouard's trial, without elaborating. Leonard,
wanted by the DEA, is believed to be hiding in the
Dominican Republic.

Jean also testified at trial that he and Aristide
approved a national security ID card for Edouard in
2002. He testified that the security badge allowed
Edouard to travel throughout Haiti without being
stopped by police. Edouard was convicted in that trial
on drug charges and is serving a life sentence.
Defense attorneys for Ketant and Jean declined Miami
Herald requests to interview their clients.

Ketant also has told authorities that among other drug
traffickers who paid off Aristide and members of his
inner circle were Ketant's own brother, Hector, and
Gilbert Horacious, according to sources familiar with
the case. Ketant said Horacious was a longtime friend
of Aristide's who introduced him and other traffickers
to the Haitian president, according to sources
familiar with the case.

Ketant's brother was fatally shot in Haiti in 2003,
and Horacious was gunned down last year in the
Dominican Republic. Shortly after Aristide fled the
country on Feb. 29, 2004, hundreds of thousands of
dollars in rotted $100 bills were found hidden in his
home, according to U.S. news reports. U.S. federal
investigators analyzed some of the bills but could not
figure out where the money had come from.

Several are alleged to have laundered money.

While investigators have struggled to piece together a
paper trail leading directly to the former president,
they have identified several people in his government
who allegedly helped launder drug money for him.

The Miami Herald has learned that the Ketant brothers
and other major traffickers made cash contributions to
the Aristide Foundation through one of its
high-ranking members.

According to traffickers and U.S. law enforcement
officials, Aristide allegedly ordered Port-au-Prince
district police chief Leonard to pass any seized drugs
on to Edouard and other Haitian traffickers for
resale. The smugglers, in turn, donated some of the
tainted proceeds to the Lavalas party or the
foundation, they said.

Aristide also instructed Haitian Sen. Fourel Célestin,
who represented the Jacmel area southwest of the
capital, to solicit donations from drug traffickers
for Lavalas, according to convicted drug smugglers,
ex-police officers and U.S. law enforcement officials.
Convicted last year after a plea deal with Miami
prosecutors, Célestin admitted taking a $200,000 bribe
to help secure the release of two detained Colombian
traffickers. Célestin is now cooperating with

Under federal law, prosecutors would not have to prove
that Aristide was personally involved in moving loads
of cocaine to the United States -- only that he
allowed traffickers to use his country and received
kickbacks in return. If Aristide comes under a U.S.
indictment, the threat of extradition from Haiti to
the United States might keep him from pushing to
return to Haiti, according to legal observers. It may
also be keeping Préval from worrying too much about
the prospect of his former mentor's return.

After February's presidential election, Préval said
that Aristide, like all Haitians, could legally come
home. But he added a cautionary note, saying Aristide
''must decide whether he wants to return, if there are
legal and other actions'' pending against him.

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