Haiti sues Aristide

2005-11-04 08:11

Miami - The Haitian interim government has accused former president Jean Bertrand Aristide of embezzling "millions of dollars" from public coffers and drug trafficking in a suit filed in a United States federal court in Miami, Florida.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday against the ex-president, currently in exile in South Africa, said he looted the public treasury and laundered the illicit proceeds and diverted and stole revenues rightfully belonging to the Haitian national telephone company, according to court documents obtained on Thursday.

It also accused him of encouraging, protecting, participating and profiting from drug trafficking in and through Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Aristide "looted, deceived and betrayed the Haitian people. He stole millions from the public treasury, thereby literally depriving the people of Haiti the ability to feed themselves," the documents said.

Ira Kurzban, a lawyer for Aristide, immediately dismissed the move.

"It's a frivolous lawsuit brought by the Vichy government in Haiti," Kurzban said, adding it was part of a "disinformation campaign".

The lawsuit also alleges that part of the illicit money had been transferred to banks and businesses in the United States, particularly in Florida, and that was the basis for its filing in Miami.

Haiti's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said it was easier to bring the suit in United States courts.

"We chose to bring the suit in the United States because the funds diverted by Mr Aristide went for the most part to that country," he said in Port-au-Prince.

"It was easier because we have an agreement with the United States," he told AFP.

The move comes a month before the first general elections scheduled in Haiti since Aristide fled Haiti on February 29, 2004, bowing to pressure from the United States, France and Canada as he faced an armed insurrection and large street protests.

After a series of delays, the presidential and parliamentary elections are due in December but no date has been set.