Charges filed against ex-dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier was charged Tuesday with corruption, embezzlement and wrongful association stemming from his 15-year rule, his lawyer said.

But Gervais Charles, who has represented the 59-year-old Duvalier in the past, said the charges date to 2008 and the statute of limitations had expired. Prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.

The charges came during a day of high drama surrounding Duvalier, who stunned Haitians when he returned to the country on Sunday.

Judge Gabriel Ambroise and Haitian attorney Reynold Georges arrived at the posh Karibe Hotel about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, as Haitian police officers were asked to secure the premises. A helicopter could be heard buzzing overhead.

Duvalier said nothing as police, guns in hand, picked him up at the hotel and escorted him out the back of the building. Scores of journalists trailed the convoy as he was transported to a courthouse in downtown Port-au-Prince.

Charles called the move "a scandal."

Human rights attorneys greeted the news with caution.

"It could be a very good step in the right direction if the Haitian justice system truly pursues this case," said Brian Concannon, director of Haiti's Institute for Justice and Democracy. "It could also be a whitewash if they don't pursue him and find a reason to let him go."

In Haiti, Duvalier had spent Monday receiving visits from members of the secret police that once terrorized the country, fueling fears that his return would deepen a political crisis sparked by the nation's disputed Nov. 28 presidential elections.

No winner emerged and the streets of Haiti have been roiled by violence as activists try to influence which candidates would engage in a runoff.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman said the French government notified the United States about Duvalier's arrival in Haiti "roughly an hour before" he landed at Port-au-Prince's international airport.

"We don't believe at this point Haiti needs any more distractions," said spokesman P.J. Crowley.

"Our focus right now is to help Haiti through this delicate period, have a new government emerge that is credible enough and legitimate enough and viewed positively in the eyes of the Haitian people so that the country, with international support, including the United States, can move ahead with the ongoing efforts to -- to rebuild Haiti."

Duvalier had spent Monday receiving visits from members of the secret police that once terrorized the country, fueling fears that his return would deepen a political crisis sparked by the nation's disputed Nov. 28 presidential elections.

No winner emerged and the streets of Haiti have been roiled by violence as activists try to influence which candidates would engage in a runoff.

Duvalier's return stirred confusion and protest. The United States and Canada denounced his return, with Ottawa tersely referring to Duvalier as a "dictator."

Human Rights Watch estimates that up to 30,000 Haitians were killed, many by execution, between the presidency of Duvalier and his father François "Papa Doc" Duvalier before him, from 1957 from 1986. A private militia, the Tonton Macoute, reinforced the Duvalier rule.

The French, meantime, denied complicity in his arrival from France, where he has lived in exile since fleeing a popular revolt 25 years ago.

"This was no plot. We did not know he was coming," said Didier Le-Bret, France's ambassador to Haiti. He only learned of the looming arrival once Duvalier boarded an Air France flight from Guadeloupe, the Caribbean archipelago 730 miles away.

Le-Bret said he immediately notified Haiti's foreign affairs minister and prime minister. "He's not a focal point of the French government," Le-Bret said. "He's a simple French citizen, he's allowed to do what he wants to do."

In Washington, Florida Rep. Connie Mack, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, frankly told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that, "we don't know what's going on in Haiti."

He struggled to elaborate: "I mean there's been so much corruption in Haiti," he said. "Obviously after the tragic events in Haiti, there was a lot of outpouring of support from this country, from the citizens of this country. But we're not seeing it being managed properly and we're not seeing that we're getting the results that we want.

"And now you've got the former dictator that's come back to the country. You can't tell me that he's back there just to go see some friends. I think he's up to no good."

The Obama administration also expressed concern and worry that Duvalier's sudden appearance could have "an unpredictable impact" on Haiti's delicate political state.

Haiti's government, meanwhile, sought to downplay Duvalier's presence and its impact on the country as it wrestles with who will follow President René Préval's five-year presidential term.

The government announced that a controversial report on the presidential elections will officially be handed over to the Provisional Electoral Council, which will determine which candidates among the three front-runners should advance to a runoff.

José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said Monday that he "had no opinion" on Duvalier's visit. Instead, he sought to downplay the impact of the OAS election report, which proposes that popular singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly replace Préval's preferred candidate, Jude Célestin, in the runoff.

The report, Insulza said, is based on "calculations" and not results.

"It's not in our power to give results," he told The Miami Herald. "We are not publishing any kind of results."

On Tuesday OAS Assistant Secretary General Ambassador Albert Ramdin briefed the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, on Haiti's political developments.

Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive have disputed the report, saying its conclusions were based on faulty methodology. Insulza defended the findings, and said he was "in no position to change the report."

But the focus Monday was less on who would enter the runoff, and more on Duvalier, who returned to the country shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday. Throughout the capital, victims relived trauma as "Baby Doc" friends and supporters argued that the country was better during his rule.

"After 25 years, we are nostalgic," said an elderly woman, who gave only her surname, Gerard Destin, after a visit to Duvalier. "He's happy that we were able to see each other again after 25 years. He wants peace, unity and love."

Ralph Brossard, 53, an urban planner said he, too, was happy to see the dictator's return and hoped that more exiled presidents would follow.

Duvalier's father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, he said, was a witness at his parents' wedding more than 50 years ago.

Still, even he was baffled by the visit and its timing, particularly after visiting Duvalier at the Karibe hotel.

"What's happening is Préval's last stand," he said. "Préval doesn't want to go into exile. This is his last card. I think he made a deal for Duvalier to return."

Préval has not publicly commented on the return, but those close to him said he was as surprised as everyone.

Bellerive said the passport Duvalier used to leave France was issued in June 2005 by the then U.S.-backed interim government of Gerard Latortue. It expired last year.

It was not known what charges, if any, Duvalier would face. His companion, Veronique Roy, spoke to an Associated Press reporter by phone from inside the court, and asked if Duvalier had been arrested, said, "Absolutely not."

She said she did not know why authorities decided to escort him to court and did not expect to be there much longer. "We are very relaxed, drinking coffee and water," she told AP. "They said they are making photocopies. We don't know why."

He was being held Tuesday afternoon at the Parquet, the name of a downtown courthouse used for some of Haiti's more serious prosecutions.

Outside, a crowd gathered and changed "Arrest Préval," seemingly expressing their dissatisfaction with Duvalier's detention.

Human rights groups in Haiti and the U.S. had demanded Duvalier's arrest as victims, such as United Nations official Michele Montas, relived trauma from the Duvalier's reign of terror.

"I am outraged, angry and dismayed that this could happened," said Montas, a former journalist and radio station owner who spent six years in exile after being jailed for 10 days, then expelled in 1980.

Montas said she had no explanation for her treatment. She said she planned to file a civil action against Duvalier for "arbitrary arrest, forced exile, torture."

"What bothers me the most is the fact that so many people seem to have forgotten what happened," she said. "When I talk about Nov. 28, 1980, when our radio station was ransacked, destroyed, when all of the journalists present at the station were arrested -- young people have no notion that something like this could have happened.

"I tell them that the price that we paid for freedom of the press they are enjoying right now was a price paid in blood. Journalists died, they were killed."

[Source: Jacqueline Charles, Lesley Clark and Trenton Daniel, Miami Herald, 18Jan11]

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