Man denies any role in coup attempt
U.S. citizen blasts embassy in Haiti
BY GAIL EPSTEIN NIEVES
A Miami businessman being detained by Haitian police in connection with a recent attempted coup was returned from his hospital bed to a crowded, roach-infested jail cell Friday, diminishing hopes for his quick release.
"They are taking me back to the jail, no explanation,'' Antoine "Tony'' Saati, 47, said in a telephone interview with The Herald on Friday afternoon. ``The judge was supposed to free me, but every day they say, `Tomorrow, in two hours, tonight.' It's all false promises.''
Details of Saati's controversial arrest remained murky. Haitian authorities say Saati is being held for questioning about the Dec. 17 attack on the National Palace by more than 20 armed men.
But Saati, a Haitian-born Miami resident and U.S. citizen, denied any connection to the coup attempt or to Haitian politics. He said he's been beaten by police and held without charges for nine days, and he blasted the U.S. embassy in Port au Prince for not arranging his release.
``I'm more angry at them than I am at the Haitian government,'' Saati said of U.S. diplomats, who have paid him several visits. ``One phone call from the ambassador to the prison and [Haitian authorities] would free me.
``But they have done nothing, just come here to talk bureaucratic
bulls---. I am a political asset or a political liability, but they have
no respect for my life as a human
being,'' he said, adding that he planned to begin a hunger strike in jail.
Charles Barclay, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department in Washington, said: ``We are aware that a U.S. citizen is in custody. A consular officer in Haiti has visited him three times. The embassy is on top of it.''
Barclay said he could not discuss the case further because Saati signed papers that restrict officials from releasing details to the public.
Saati is CEO and president of Miami-based One World Corp., an export-import company that produces and sells candy, snack foods and other products in the United States and Haiti under the brand name "Gina,'' named for his sister.
He was taken into custody by Haitian police Dec. 20, three days
after armed men rushed the presidential palace in what the Haitian government
portrayed as a failed
attempt by the opposition to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Saati, his sister and his brother, Georges -- all of Miami -- contend that Saati went to the island nation about three weeks ago to serve legal papers to a former company employee and friend, Eddy Deeb.
Saati has sued Deeb in the Dominican Republic and in Miami-Dade civil court for alleged theft of merchandise and trademark infringement.
Saati and his siblings contend that Deeb has strong ties to the Aristide government and that he exploited those contacts to arrange for Saati's arrest.
"A lot of powerful people are on his payroll,'' Saati said from L'Hpital du Canapé Vert in Port-au-Prince, where he received medical treatment after accidentally drinking from a bottle of Pine Sol in his cell at the Delmas 33 Jail.
Saati -- who said he is not involved in politics -- said Deeb's goal was to postpone or stop the legal proceedings.
But Georges Saati, his brother and a vocal anti-Aristide activist, sees darker motives at play.
``Eddy [Deeb] had him arrested because Eddy is very close with the Aristide government, and Aristide is taking a ride on it, using my brother to get to me emotionally and to get back at the Bush administration for not giving him any money,'' Georges Saati said.
The two Saati brothers have not spoken to each other for six years because of a family feud.
In jail, Antoine Saati said he was sharing an 8-foot by 9-foot cell with ``about 5,000 cockroaches'' and 14 other people, including two pregnant Dominican women.
He said he slept standing up or on an old broken icebox.
Saati said several senators from the Lavalas ruling party visited him Thursday and promised they would tell Aristide about his situation. Other visitors have told him that he can pay his way out of custody, Saati said.
``I am not that type,'' he insisted. ``I will not give money to be out. They are breaking my will and my bones, but it's never going to work.''
Saati also said he has hired five lawyers who went to court Friday seeking his release, but no judge was available to hear the case.
``I told them the judge wouldn't be there. I cannot be freed because
there is never anybody there,'' Saati said, adding that he doubts he will
be released until late next
``I have to leave you, they are all waiting for me, to take me to the jail,'' he concluded, hanging up the phone.
Staff writer Nancy San Martin contributed to this report.