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Baby Doc made a puzzling return. Now a former president wants to come back too.
But the Swiss Return of Illicit Assets Act goes into effect on Feb. 1, and the Swiss government had planned to use it to return that money to Haiti.
“It’s possible that [Duvalier] thought that if he returned to Haiti he could throw a wrench in the process, or at least try to claim some credit for any return of assets to Haiti,” said Mark V. Vlasic, a partner at the Washington law firm Ward & Ward PLLC and a law professor at Georgetown University.
Vlasic was head of operations at the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative when the Swiss law was written. While at the bank, he worked with Swiss officials on the Duvalier case. The law was passed, in part, to help Haiti recover the Duvalier money. Corrupt politicians have been able to hide money in Swiss bank accounts and then live off that money in luxury once in exile.
When it passed it was lauded as a landmark move by the Swiss government to cut down on financial crimes. However, it’s not clear if the law can be utilized if a country has its own opportunity to prosecute the official for financial crimes.
It is unlikely Duvalier will get the money back. Swiss courts have already ruled it was taken illegally.
Now that Duvalier is in Haiti, human rights groups have said it’s important that he face justice.
“It would send a message that we have the capacity and the will to see a case of this magnitude through the system,” said Haitian lawyer Patrice Florvilus of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, which is linked to Aristide, a political opponent of Duvalier. “It’s extremely important.”
It’s unclear how long the judge will investigate before making a decision about the case and questions have been raised as to how strongly the government will push for the prosecution or if it prefers that Duvalier gets on a plane and leaves.
In his statement, Aristide said the purpose of his desire to return “is very clear: To contribute to serving my Haitian sister and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education.”
Aristide’s letter drew a quick reaction from the U.S. State Department. Spokesman P.J. Crowley posted on Twitter that “We do not doubt President Aristide’s desire to help the people of Haiti. But today Haiti needs to focus on its future, not its past.”
The country is supposed to seat a new president in a few weeks. But it has not held the second round of elections to elect that leader or announced which two candidates will compete in that round.
“I think that the timing [of Duvalier’s return] is a huge distraction from the election, which is the real issue that needs to be addressed,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
The country’s electoral council certified results from the first round, which would have sent former first lady Mirlande Manigat and government candidate Jude Celestin to a second round. But after an analysis of a sample of votes, election monitors from the Organization of American States released a report that stated singer Michel Martelly should be moved to second place.
President Rene Preval has not addressed the report publicly. A Center for Economic and Policy Research analysis of the OAS findings and of the vote totals found numerous problems. “The vote should be run again and open to all candidates,” Weisbrot said.
U.S. and U.N. officials today urged Haiti to adopt the OAS findings. U.N. Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy said the electoral commission “must honor its commitment to fully take into account the report’s recommendations.”
He said he expected an official decision by Jan. 31 and a second-round vote in mid-February.