Haiti reveals ‘colossal loss’ of $4M worth of corruption

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A soccer field that was paid for but never built. A school that diverted resources from its students. A mayor who ran city hall out of his mother’s home and avoided property taxes.

Officials say these and dozens of other alleged acts of corruption cost Haiti’s government a “colossal loss” of some 500 million gourdes ($4 million) at a time when state infrastructure is collapsing amid political instability and deepening poverty.

The allegations were released Thursday by Haiti’s antigovernment corruption unit, whose general director, Hans Joseph, pledged to go after those who “torpedo the public treasury and asphyxiate the country’s economic and social development efforts.”

He called on Haiti’s judicial officials to act on his agency’s findings.

Jacques Lafontant, government commissioner for the capital of Port-au-Prince, told The Associated Press on Friday that he would order all those named in the report to appear before a judge.

“The process will start without any delay,” he said.

The 30-page report released to the public summarizes lengthy investigations launched by Joseph’s agency and provides a window into rampant corruption across Haiti, where more than 60% of its more than 11 million people struggle to survive on about $2 a day.

The agency pursued 10 unrelated investigations, finding alleged corruption in places including two schools, three mayors’ offices and three government agencies.

It accused the general director of Haiti’s National Lottery of diverting more than 41 million Haitian gourdes ($300,000) with help from her brother — a legal professional — and of not charging companies operating rights, resulting in a shortfall of 269 million gourdes (more than $2 million) to the public treasury.

In addition, it found irregularities with debit cards that Haiti’s National Police issued to employees, noting that benefits illegally given to those who were fired or retired resulted in a loss of more than 18.2 million gourdes ($140,000) in the span of just three months.

It also accused the former mayor of the southern coastal town of Petit-Goave of diverting nearly 12.8 million gourdes (more than $98,000) slated for several projects.

The former official also allegedly set up city hall in his mother’s home, “putting himself in a situation where it was necessary to choose between protecting the interests of the mayor’s office or those of his mother,” the report said. It accused him of not paying taxes on the property and said money was missing from the employee payroll.

A former mayor of the north coastal town of Anse-Rouge was accused of creating more than two dozen fictional employees whose checks were going to the city’s accountant. In addition, the report said there was no evidence of five purported sanitation projects on which 835,000 gourdes ($6,400) was spent and no proof that 595,000 gourdes ($4,500) offered by the international aid group Oxfam to buy fuel was used for that purpose.

Also in the north, a former mayor of Saint-Raphael was accused of paying a company more than 2 million gourdes ($15,000) for a soccer field and reading center that were never built. The anti-corruption agency said it tried to track down the company’s officials but said the physical address provided did not exist.

The agency accused the former director of a school in Maissade in central Haiti of diverting more than 2 million gourdes ($15,000), alleging he had only 735 students instead of the 1,004 registered.

Joseph said that despite Haiti’s “major structural differences,” he hoped the government could recover its assets and fully punish those whom he called “enemies of the republic.”

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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