The Miami Herald
January 1, 2002

U.S. awaits word on detainee

Embassy in Haiti sent protest note


 The U.S. Embassy in Haiti has expressed ``concern'' about the Haitian government's failure to respond to a firmly worded diplomatic note protesting the detention of Miami businessman Antoine Saati, who has been held without charges for nearly two weeks in Port-au-Prince under murky circumstances.

 The Haitian national police have said Saati, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Haiti, is being held for questioning in what the government has described as a coup attempt on Dec. 17. But Saati and his family deny he was involved, and say he has not been charged with anything or allowed to see a judge.

 Saati remained hospitalized under guard Monday after drinking from a bottle of detergent placed in his roach-infested jail cell last week. He had been briefly returned to jail Friday night, but was taken back to the hospital early Saturday.

 The diplomatic protest note was sent last week, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said Monday.

 ``We are still awaiting a response,'' said embassy spokeswoman Judith Trunzo. ``This is an American citizen who is being held without charges. We are concerned about his health and the lack of judicial process.

 ``We are hopeful the note will be answered. We firmly believe that would be in the interest of good relations.''

 Trunzo also said ``national officials'' from the United States had contacted the embassy to express concern about Saati's case, though she would not name them. The
 phone was not answered Monday at the Haitian government's press office.

 The embassy had not previously disclosed the issuance of the protest note because Saati had signed a form requesting that American diplomatic officials treat his case confidentially. But he has since allowed them to speak more freely, Trunzo said.

 Saati and his family had vocally complained about what they said was the embassy's failure to intervene on his behalf. On Monday, his sister, Gina Saati, said she was certain the embassy could do more on her brother's behalf.

 ``We are the most powerful country in the world,'' she said. ``If you know the man is innocent, I don't know why my consulate can't order him released.''

 Antoine Saati, who, with his sister, runs a multimillion-dollar import-export business based in Miami, was detained on Dec. 20 when he attempted to serve legal papers on a one-time employee who he alleges defrauded his company. Saati's company is suing the former employee, Eddy Deeb, and his Medley firm in Miami-Dade circuit court.

 Gina Saati contends that Deeb has close ties to the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and engineered her brother's arrest in an effort to dissuade him from pursing a legal claim in Haiti.

 In a phone interview from the hospital last week, Antoine Saati emphatically denied any involvement in the Dec. 17 attack by about 20 armed men on Haiti's National Palace, saying he was apolitical.

 Some in the political opposition have charged the coup was staged by Aristide's government to shore up sagging popular support.

 People who know the Saatis say they doubt Antoine could have been involved in a coup attempt, noting that Saati has in the past expressed agreement with Aristide.
 Saati's brother Georges, however, has been a vocal critic of Aristide and recently founded a political organization to oppose his government. The two brothers have been estranged for several years.

                                    © 2001