19 Jan 2011

Haiti ex-dictator 'Baby Doc' Duvalier appears in court

Haiti on Tuesday briefly detained former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, back from exile in France on possible charges.

And so, with every passing day, the mystery only deepens….

Barely able to move through a crowd who had come to cheer and also come to jeer, this 59 year old, looking somewhat puffy and bumbling – almost benign – eventually got into a brief court hearing in Port-au-Prince today to appear before the “juge d’instruction”. His job? To see if there is a case to answer for Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, on possible charges of embezzling massively the national coffers; corruption; theft and…other charges – whatever that might mean.

And it could mean a lot indeed for a man reputed to have left 25 years ago at 3am with millions and millions of dollars ripped off from Haitian national coffers. To say nothing of having his notorious henchmen secret service heavies, the Tontons Macoutes, duff up, torture and murder perhaps thousands of opponents during his years in power. So that charge sheet could be a lengthy piece of writing. Well, the judge has 30 days to decide. No pressure there, then.

Jean-Claude Duvalier then went out into the ruck that immediately closed in around him. And said nothing. This has become his modus operandi in the three days he has been back home now.

His lawyer made a number of new claims, however. That his client would fight any criminal charges with vigour and that he wanted to re-enter Haitian politics. The latter, not at all, what Baby Doc said when he suddenly turned up, First Class, on the Air France flight at the beginning of the week.

According to his ticket, he must fly back tomorrow to France. But it seems this sojourn will be a little lengthier. The process of assembling the case against the former dictator of Haiti, likely to take several months to amass.

All of which leaves people around the world and Haitians above all, deeply puzzled and wondering why he came back like this? For Mr Duvalier and his supporters had been warned many times that any return from exile would without doubt result in questions from the gendarmerie, to put it at its most mild.

Equally, back in France, the money had pretty much run out we are given to understand – after endless tax wrangles and a full-price divorce along the way. Mind you, France in theory only admitted him on a seven-day transit visa. It ended up being 25 years after various countries said “Non” to receiving Baby Doc into permanent exile.

Countries like the US, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco, the Seychelles and Gabon. Yup – they all said no to Baby Doc and the entourage.

Which of course gave France a little bit of a problem. So what did they do? Well, basically they decided to forget. Seven days became a month, a year and a quarter century and so long as he just kept his head down and concentrated on allegedly blowing his people’s money until it was pretty much gone.

And then, he grabbed that passeport diplomatique he’d mysteriously acquired, headed for Air France and Haiti – in seat 3A.