Haiti Charges Ex-leader Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier.

Haiti's former leader Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has been charged with corruption and embezzlement during his 1971-1986 rule, prosecutors say.

Mr Duvalier was allowed to go free after questioning, but a judge will decide whether his case goes to trial.

The ex-leader, who denies wrongdoing, made a surprise return to Haiti on Sunday after 24 years in exile.

He was regarded as a playboy during his time in office, when he used a brutal militia to control the country.

He said he had "come to help" after last year's devastating earthquake.

Port-au-Prince's chief prosecutor Aristidas Auguste told Reuters that charges of corruption, theft, misappropriation of funds and other alleged crimes had been brought against him.

'Ongoing burden'

There have been growing calls for Mr Duvalier to be prosecuted for alleged torture and murder of thousands of people during his rule.

On Tuesday, Mr Auguste and a judge came to Mr Duvalier's hotel in Port-au-Prince to question him over allegations he embezzled millions of dollars from the country's treasury.

He was then taken to court where he was questioned for several hours. Some onlookers are reported to have jeered as he left, while others cheered in a show of support.

Gervais Charles, president of the Port-au-Prince bar association and a member of his defence team, told the BBC that Mr Duvalier had been very calm during questioning and denied having done anything wrong.

"When they asked him how much money he had in Swiss bank accounts, he said about $1.5m at that time, 26 years ago, and the funds are still blocked," Mr Charles said.

His client had said the money in question came from his mother's foundation, Mr Charles added.

Judicial system

Gianni Maggazini, a senior official with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the BBC the decision to charge Mr Duvalier "may be an important step to establish the facts, try to understand what happened, ensure accountability for past crimes and fight impunity".

Mr Maggazini said the case underlined how important it was that international pledges made to help improve the Haitian judicial system "need to be translated into action".

"The judicial system in Haiti needs as much support as possible."

US state department spokesman Philip Crowley described Mr Duvalier's return to Haiti as an addition to the country's "ongoing burden".

He arrived on the day Haiti was supposed to hold a second round of elections to choose a successor to outgoing President Rene Preval.

That vote has been postponed because of a dispute over which candidates should be on the ballot paper.

Provisional results from the first round on 28 November provoked violent demonstrations when they were announced, and most observers said there was widespread fraud and intimidation.

The UN secretary general's spokesperson said Mr Duvalier's return had come as a "total surprise" to the organisation's mission in the country, as it had to many others.

Martin Nesirky said it was a source of concern to see him resurfacing at a critical time for the stability of the country.

Mr Duvalier was just 19 when he inherited the title of "president-for-life" from his father, the notorious Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who had ruled Haiti since 1957.

Like his father, he relied on a brutal private militia known as the Tontons Macoutes, which controlled Haiti through violence and intimidation.

Haiti is struggling to recover from a massive earthquake one year ago that killed more than 250,000 people and left Port-au-Prince in ruins.

[Source: BBC, London, 19Jan11]

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