PORT-AU-PRINCE – Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier was charged with embezzling public funds Tuesday, but a judge must still decide whether the indictment can go forward.
The charges were filed after the man known as “Baby Doc” underwent more than four hours of questioning at the chief prosecutor’s office in Port-au-Prince.
Duvalier, who left the office accompanied by police officers but without wearing handcuffs, was apparently planning to return to the capital’s Hotel Karibe, where he has been staying since his unexpected return to Haiti last week following 25 years of exile in France.
Duvalier was escorted to the prosecutor’s office earlier this week after prosecutor Aristidas Auguste and Judge Gabriel Ambroise decided to continue questioning him there after spending about an hour with him in his room at the Karibe.
Human rights protesters and supporters of the former dictator gathered in front of the prosecutor’s office during the arrest.
Protestor Daniele Magloire, leader of the Haitian group Droits et Democratie (Rights and Democracy), said he was shocked the public wasn’t provided access to the judicial proceedings.
Pierre Esperance, executive director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, told EFE that, “Duvalier was the ringleader for many crimes that were committed between 1971 and 1986, which may be characterized as crimes against humanity, … [including] torture, arbitrary arrest, murder and summary execution. They are crimes that are not subject to the statute of limitations,” he said.
Baby Doc succeeded his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who seized power in 1957 and launched a regime blamed for decades of killings and human rights abuses, and for the embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The younger Duvalier faces numerous civil suits that accuse him of diverting $920 million in public funds into U.S., Swiss and French bank accounts.
Amnesty International on Monday urged Haitian authorities to arrest and try Baby Doc for crimes against humanity, a call echoed by the Haitian branch of Catholic charity Caritas.
Duvalier’s surprise return to Haiti aggravates the woes of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country as it struggles to recover from the devastating earthquake of January 2010 amid an ongoing cholera epidemic and political turmoil arising from last fall’s flawed presidential election.
A second round of presidential and legislative elections scheduled for last Sunday was postponed indefinitely because of the chaotic electoral environment. According to Pierre Louis Opont, general director of the Provisional Electoral Council, results of the first electoral round have not yet been verified.
Initial reports from the first round indicated former first lady Mirlande Manigat had received 31.37 percent of votes, followed by government candidate Jude Celestin with 22.48 percent. Presidential candidate and famous Haitian pop singer Michel Martelly, who performs under the stage name “Sweet Mickey,” was not included in last week’s scheduled runoff, sparking violent protests that resulted in four deaths.
A report on the elections by the Organization of American States has not yet been publicly released.