Ex-security chief: Aristide shielded kingpin
The former security chief for Jean-Bertrand Aristide testified that the deposed Haitian leader enabled a reputed cocaine kingpin to travel free of police scrutiny.
BY JAY WEAVER
The ex-security chief for ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide testified Wednesday that the former leader approved a national security badge for a reputed cocaine smuggler so he could travel freely in the country without police searching him.
But former security head Oriel Jean told a jury that Aristide was unaware of Jean's involvement in the alleged drug organization headed by Serge Edouard, now on trial in Miami federal court. Aristide only learned about it after confronting Jean in 2003.
That year, U.S. officials began pressuring Aristide to crack down on suspected drug traffickers who were using the island to move tons of Colombian cocaine to the United States.
''I kept it a secret from him,'' said Jean, who was not fired by Aristide.
Jean, on the witness stand for two days, said Edouard rewarded him with $40,000 for obtaining the security badge that helped provide protection for his cocaine shipments to the United States.
Jean, 40, who recently pleaded guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy charge, is hoping to reduce his upcoming prison sentence with his testimony against Edouard.
In a tense moment Wednesday, Jean said he encountered Edouard in the Miami Federal Detention Center. He said Edouard threatened to kill Jean's family here and in Haiti if he continued to testify.
Edouard, 43, faces drug- and money-laundering conspiracy charges for exporting cocaine to South Florida and New York, and for paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Haitian law enforcement officials to secure shipments through the airport. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. The trial is expected to end this week.
Jean did not testify that he or Edouard ever gave any protection money to Aristide, nor was he asked that question on the witness stand. But on Wednesday, Jean testified that Edouard gave an unspecified amount of money to the Aristide Foundation, one of the ex-president's private social welfare organizations.
Last December, The Herald reported that Haitian investigators probing allegations of corruption under Aristide said they found evidence of financial records showing ''millions of dollars'' transferred from one presidential account to Haitian bank accounts held by the Aristide Foundation and Aristide's wife, Mildred Trouillot Aristide.
Aristide's Miami attorney, Ira Kurzban, said that if any government funds were transferred to bank accounts of the president's wife or his social works foundation, they went to legitimate government expenditures.
Haitian investigators said several suspicious presidential checks, some for $5 million to $10 million and all in U.S. dollars, were made out to Jean, the former Aristide security chief.
Haitian Justice Minister Bernard Gousse and Jean-Yves Nol, head of the Financial Intelligence Unit, which has been acting as the liaison between Haitian and U.S. investigators, told The Herald they believed the evidence trail will eventually lead to Aristide.
Nol displayed a canceled presidential check made out to Jean in 2002 for $6,077,342.40. Nol said he believed the money ''was used for a lot of things, the chimeres, to do propaganda for [Aristide], to pay people.'' Chimeres are thugs allegedly armed and financed by Aristide to back him and to harass his opposition.
Jean, in December, said through his Miami attorney, David Raben, that he knew nothing about the check. ''I have never seen or received any check for $6 million made out to me from the Haitian government,'' he said.
Another powerful Haitian trafficker, Jacques Ketant -- sentenced to 27 years in federal prison last year -- told U.S. officials that he paid the former president and his security chief up to $500,000 a month to let him land small planes loaded with cocaine on National Route 9.
Ketant also claims to have made massive payoffs to Aristide's political party and to one of his social-work foundations. Aristide, now in exile in South Africa, continues to be a target of the federal probe that began before his ouster in February 2004.
Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.