Ex-dictator `Baby Doc` charged in Haiti

Haiti has slapped a slew of corruption charges on former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Haiti has slapped a slew of corruption charges on former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, less than 48 hours after his shock return to the poor Caribbean nation he once ruled with an iron fist.

Feared in his youth as the notorious dictator "Baby Doc," Duvalier, now 59, cut a very different and rather forlorn figure as police escorted him away from his hotel to face interrogation over his rapacious 1971-1986 rule.

An investigating judge questioned him in court for hours and must now decide whether there is enough evidence to pursue charges -- which Duvalier`s lawyer told AFP were for corruption, embezzlement and criminal association.

Critics and human rights groups accuse the former strongman of siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars and of presiding over an era of brutal abuses, including extrajudicial killings and torture.

Duvalier was later allowed to return to the Hotel Karibe in upmarket Petionville where he has been holed up since Sunday evening after setting foot on home soil for the first time in 25 years.

"He is free, but has to remain at the disposal of the justice system," his lawyer told AFP, without saying if he could leave the country. A French diplomatic source has said Duvalier`s return ticket to France is booked for Thursday.

His unexpected return comes against the backdrop of great political uncertainty in Haiti following disputed presidential elections that spawned riots between rival factions that left five dead.

One year after a catastrophic earthquake killed a quarter of a million people, much of the capital Port-au-Prince remains in ruins and a cholera epidemic has claimed nearly 4,000 lives.

It is not exactly clear how the re-emergence of Duvalier shakes up the political landscape. Duvalier has neither explained his motivation nor endorsed any candidate in the race to succeed President Rene Preval.

A Duvalier spokesman suggested the charges against him were being cooked up by the government to force the former dictator to scrap a planned media event.

"What is happening is a loathsome maneuver by Preval to prevent him from having even a small press conference," said the spokesman, Henry Robert Sterlin. "What those in power want is the destabilization of the country."

It was a day of high political and legal drama in the rubble-strewn capital Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of thousands of people remain in squalid tent cities after last year`s quake.

Duvalier was first questioned by the nation`s chief prosecutor in his hotel but emerged sheepishly after more than an hour under police escort but not in handcuffs.

The convoy of armored vehicles bristling with SWAT police made its way to the main court house downtown, twisting and turning through the streets of the capital as journalists and bystanders on motorbikes tried to keep pace.

Asked how he was feeling as he got into a car to drive away after four hours of questioning, Duvalier simply answered "fine." He was later seen having dinner in his hotel restaurant, seemingly unperturbed by the furor.
"Baby Doc" came to power in 1971 when he was just 19. Succeeding his repressive father Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier at his death, the precocious young leader with a playboy lifestyle was not expected to last long.

But like his father, he imposed authoritarian rule on the impoverished Caribbean nation -- barring opposition, clamping down on dissidents, rubber-stamping his own laws and pocketing government revenue.

The dreaded Tonton Macoutes, a secret police force loyal to the Duvalier family, has been accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing up to 30,000 suspected opponents during the 1960s and 70s.

Duvalier and his followers were accused of plundering hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds during their 15-year reign until "Baby Doc" was ousted in 1986 and left in disgrace aboard a US Air Force plane.

He has been fighting to hold on to some $5.7 million of allegedly embezzled funds held by an opaque Liechtenstein-based foundation in Switzerland but frozen by the Swiss government.

Duvalier has never faced prosecution abroad.

Haitian journalist, Michele Montas, the former spokeswoman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon, has confirmed she also plans to file a suit against Duvalier.


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