Duvalier faces corruption, other charges

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier has been charged with corruption, theft and misappropriation of funds, Port-au-Prince's chief prosecutor said Tuesday.

Judge to decide whether case will go ahead

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier was escorted by police from his hotel in Port-au-Prince Tuesday morning. ((Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press))

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier was charged with corruption, theft and misappropriation of funds on Tuesday, amid accusations he expropriated hundreds of millions of dollars during his 16-year presidency.

The charges must now be investigated by a judge, who will decide whether there is enough evidence to go to trial. That process can take up to three months.

Human rights activists and lawyers say the former leader, known as 'Baby Doc,' funnelled up to $300 million US of federal funds into his own private bank accounts.

Though Duvalier is accused of crimes against humanity, he still enjoys the support of many Haitians, including those who protested outside the courthouse on Tuesday. ((Eduardo Munoz/Reuters) )

The 59-year-old Duvalier was questioned for nearly five hours in a private court session, as supporters gathered outside holding his photograph and chanting his name.

He was released from the court shortly after 5 p.m. ET and was reportedly headed back to the luxury Karibe Hotel.

Duvalier was removed from the hotel after meeting privately with senior Haitian judicial officials inside his hotel room Tuesday morning.

Under heavy police escort, he walked slowly down a hotel staircase, stopping briefly to wave to a crowd of cheering supporters outside the hotel but saying nothing.

He was led to a police van, where he was put in the back seat between armed officers and driven away. He was not handcuffed.

Duvalier's longtime companion, Véronique Roy, laughed but also said nothing when reporters asked if Duvalier was being arrested. Later, she told a reporter Duvalier had "absolutely not" been arrested.

Duvalier had been staying at the hotel since his surprise return to Haiti on Sunday. He ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986, when he fled the country during a popular rebellion.

Duvalier has 'no political ambitions'

Henry Robert Sterlin, Haiti's ambassador to France under Duvalier, said the former dictator has "no political ambitions," and only wants to see what has become of Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake.

Jean-Claude Duvalier was transported from the Karibe Hotel to a Port-au-Prince courthouse in a white police van with tinted windows. ((Lee Celano/Reuters))

In an interview with CBC Radio's As It Happens, Sterlin said Duvalier is "suffering a lot psychologically over the situation in Haiti."

Sterlin said he and other former schoolmates and supporters asked him to return to see the people of Haiti and to mark Duvalier's 60th birthday this summer.

Duvalier's accusers have not proven that he stole the $300 million, Sterlin said, adding it would be impossible to reach a proper ruling on the charge because "justice is very corrupt here."

International human rights organizations have urged Haitian officials to pursue charges against Duvalier for human rights abuses committed while he was leader.

Montrealer Brisson Emilcar was just 11 when Duvalier left Haiti, but says he remembers the abuse of power and has confidence in Haiti's judicial system.

"He must answer to the acts committed 25 years ago," he said.

Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on Haiti to hold Duvalier accountable for the crimes committed by his secret police, known as the Tontons Macoutes, who tortured and murdered political opponents.

Javier Zuniga, a special adviser at Amnesty International, said the human rights violations committed during Duvalier's rule "amount to crimes against humanity."

"Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes," he said.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, said Duvalier's "time to be held accountable is long overdue."

'Time to be judged'

Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights lawyer, has gathered stories from Haitians who say they were tortured and abused by the Tontons Macoutes.

Joseph is calling on Haitians to come forward now with allegations of abuse suffered during Duvalier's time as leader.

"It's a chance for the victims," he said. "It's ... time for Jean-Claude to be judged."

Duvalier stops to wave to supporters as police escort him from the Karibe Hotel. ((Ramon Munoz/Reuters) )
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told The Associated Press that it is generally easier to bring charges in the country where the crimes were committed.

Before his surprise return home Sunday, Duvalier had been living in France.

"I believe there have been various cases brought over the years in France," Colville earlier told reporters in Geneva. "We're checking ... exactly what happened over the many years he's been resident in France and why he wasn't arrested."

But Colville cautioned it is unclear whether Haiti's fragile judicial system is in a position to mount a case.

"As with any arrest and charging, you have to have assembled some evidence in an organized fashion to bring a case," he said. "It means having a case prepared sufficiently to warrant an arrest, and then the rest of the judicial procedure."

Duvalier assumed power at age 19, replacing his father, François Duvalier. Though both men are accused of having political opponents tortured and killed, the family still enjoys the support of many Haitians.

With files from CBC's Connie Watson and The Associated Press