It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

Mwen se echantiyon yon ras kap boujonnen men ki poko donnen

Si vous voulez vous faire des ennemis essayer de changer les choses

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Aristide's American Profiteers by Mary O'Grady Wall Street Journal

The smoking gun: the IDT-Haiti contract

July 29, 2008----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Articles I wrote this month about the resignation of IDT CEO James Courter as John McCain's finance co-chair provoked supporters of former Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to noisy denials and personal attacks. My reports appeared in, the website of Condé Nast Portfolio, a major U.S. business magazine. I wrote that Courter had resigned after I reported that the Federal Communications Commission had fined IDT $1.3 million for failing to file its contract with Haiti.-------------------------------------------------------------
Why would IDT fail to file the contract? Maybe because it shows that in this Aristide-administration deal, payments were below the legal 23 cents a minute set by the FCC (money that would have gone to Haiti) and that IDT payments were ordered sent to a shell company account in the Turks & Caicos instead of to a government account in Haiti. (A shell company is a paper company that does no business other than to move money to hide corrupt deals.) Read the contract. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
The contract shows that IDT benefited by getting a cheap deal, paying only 8.75 cents per minute to Haiti According to Turks & Caicos lawyer Adrian Corr, who handled Mont Salem, the shell sent Aristide a 3-cents per minute kickback. Corr now denies to other reporters that he told me this. All he has to do to prove his point is to provide documents of the true ownership and paper trail of Mont Salem's finances. Here are the Turks & Caicos registration documents of Mont Salem signed by an official of Corr's law firm, Miller-Simons-O'Sullivan. Let's follow the money!-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban of Miami, has been active in denunciation of my articles. He certainly has an interest in the matter. Documents show that Kurzban got at least $10 million working for Aristide, including fees from the corrupt Haiti TeleCo. See these documents . And more . As Kurzban worked for TeleCo, perhaps he can tell us where the money that passed through Mont Salem ended up.
For background, see the eight articles I have written about the IDT-Haiti scam, including for the Haiti Democracy Project (a policy group) and for CorpWatch, Inter Press Service (IPS) and (all media organizations).
Follow Aristide's Money Offshore: How Haiti was looted with the help of tax haven shell companies & secret bank accounts and U.S. citizens & corporations
Aristide's American Profiteers, By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY Wall Street JournalJuly 28, 2008; Page A13For audio and video click on:
This column has long followed the story of Jean Bertrand Aristide's Haiti, two U.S. telephone companies and a few American political insiders. Many questions remain unanswered and now both companies are back in the news. On July 10 the Federal Communications Commission hit IDT Corp. with a $1.3 million fine for "willfully and repeatedly failing to file with the commission" its contracts with Haiti's telecom monopoly, Teleco Haiti, in 2003 and 2004. Two U.S. telephone companies are back in the spotlight for their dealings with Teleco Haiti. The Americas columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady speaks with Daniel Henninger. (July 28)Not only should those contracts have been filed, they should have been made public. Now that they have been made public, we learn that Teleco Haiti granted IDT the right to terminate calls in Haiti at less than half the official settlement rate, and that IDT agreed to deposit all payments not at Teleco Haiti, but in an offshore account in the Turks and Caicos managed by a company called Mont Salem.
Long-distance revenues were one of Haiti's few sources of hard currency. Yet after President Aristide left office in 2004, Teleco Haiti's coffers were found to be empty. Still, IDT may have played only a small role in the alleged looting of Teleco Haiti. A far more interesting actor is Fusion Telecommunications. It may have been terminating traffic in the country as far back as the mid-1990s, not long after Bill Clinton used the U.S. military to restore the coup-deposed Mr. Aristide to power. But we don't know if this is true because Fusion's contracts, which should also be public under FCC rules, have been shrouded in secrecy. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The FCC decision against IDT is a victory for former IDT employee Michael Jewett. He filed suit in federal court in Newark, N.J., in 2004, alleging that the company fired him because he objected to an illegal deal between it and Teleco Haiti. Much of what Mr. Jewett described in his complaint turned out to be in the contract. But there's more. He also alleged in court documents that he was told that the Mont Salem account belonged to Mr. Aristide. IDT denies this.Mr. Aristide's Haitian critics have long alleged that Fusion was getting a preferred connection rate in return for kickbacks to the strongman. This, they say, allowed Fusion to dominate the U.S.-Haiti route, something that would have made company insiders rich. Haitians told me in 2001 that Fusion even had an office inside Haiti Teleco.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The chairman of Fusion's board was and still is Marvin Rosen, who was the finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 1996 Clinton fund-raising scandals. During the late 1990s, Joseph P. Kennedy II and Thomas "Mack" McLarty, both prominent Democrats, were on the board. Fusion has previously denied any wrongdoing. Get the latest information in Spanish from The Wall Street Journal's Americas page.In February 2007, the FCC told me that its "Haiti file," containing contracts, had vanished from its records room. To re-create the missing file, it asked IDT, Fusion and other companies for copies. Fusion produced one, from 1999, that it says matched the one it had filed.In December, I filed an application to see that contract under the Freedom of Information Act. Eight months later the company is still blocking my request. Company lawyers have met with the FCC to argue for confidentiality.
Why Fusion would fight so hard to keep what is supposed to be a public contract out of the public's view is a good question. Here's one possible reason: A civil action filed by the Republic of Haiti in November 2005 in Florida charged that Aristide operatives gave "rate concessions" to various telephone companies, and these "included Fusion Telecommunications." The suit also charged that Teleco "allow[ed] certain carriers to 'settle' allegedly disputed Teleco billings on favorable terms," and that Fusion was one of them. These, the civil action notes, "were not in Teleco's interest" and "violated U.S. law."--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Florida suit -- which was withdrawn after a change of government in 2006 but can be reinstated if the plaintiff desires -- also alleges that "the fraudulent scheme to steal Teleco revenues was carried out in part through defendant Mont Salem," which "serve[d] as a front for the interests of the Aristide Group." It says that "at Aristide's direction," two carriers were instructed to make payments to Mont Salem. One was a Canadian company. The other was IDT. And further: "At Aristide's direction Teleco's then-counsel also caused Teleco to request at least one other carrier, Fusion, to make payments through Mont Salem."-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The FCC is set to decide by Sept. 26 on whether the Fusion contract should be public. Its IDT decision sets a precedent, and Americans deserve to know what happened between the Clintonistas and Mr. Aristide. Haitians also deserve accountability. Mr. Aristide, who fled Haiti in 2004 under a cloud of corruption charges, is living in South Africa but trying to make a return to power in Haiti. If he succeeds, Haiti's future will remain as dim as its past. The FCC should give a full accounting on whether some of his past enablers were high-ranking American politicians.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Haiti File
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADYFebruary 12, 2007; Page A14The Wall Street Journal---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A government file pertinent to two civil law suits alleging bribery doesn't just get up and walk out of a supposedly secure federal-agency record roomin Washington. When said bribery allegations involve politically influentialindividuals on both sides of the aisle and a notoriously corrupt former Haitian president that the U.S. supported for a decade, it's even moretroubling.In a December email to a lawyer in one of the law suits, the FederalCommunications Commission said that its "Haiti file" was missing. The file is the record of which U.S. telecom companies that did business with thegovernment of former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide actuallycomplied with U.S. law by submitting their contracts to the FCC. An official at the commission told me on Friday that "we don't have the file but we arecontinuing our active efforts to locate it."I'm not sure whether the missing file would fit into Sandy Berger's socks. But given the number of political heavyweights -- both Republican andDemocrat -- who might welcome the disappearance of these documents, it's abit difficult to write the whole thing off as an accident.Since 2000 I have followed allegations that Haiti's Mr. Aristide took bribesfrom U.S. telecom carriers doing business in his country. These chargesarose first in conversations with Haitians familiar with operations at the state-owned phone company, Teleco. More recently they have been aired in twoseparate civil suits filed in two different U.S. federal courts.The alleged quid pro quo for the U.S. companies that agreed to pay the bribes was access to the Teleco network at rates below the uniform"international settlement rate" set by the FCC. During the course of myinvestigations, two different long-distance suppliers told me that Teleco officials offered them just such a special rate in exchange for payment madeto specially designated accounts.If the allegations are true, it would mean that the Foreign CorruptPractices Act was violated, right under the nose of the FCC and the Department of Justice, during Democratic and Republican administrations. Itwould also mean that while Haitians were placing their trust in Uncle Sam tohelp them construct a democracy, millions of dollars that might have gone to building an infrastructure were siphoned off by a corrupt tyrant and partners with friends in high places.In 2000, questions arose about Fusion Telecommunications, which had aconcession to terminate calls in Haiti and which, according to sources, had an office inside Teleco. Marvin Rosen (finance chairman for the DemocraticNational Committee from September 1995 until January 1997), formerDemocratic Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, and Bill Clinton confidante Thomas (Mack) McLarty III were all on the board of Fusion. Mr. Rosen wasFusion chief executive officer.Rumors abounded in Haiti that Fusion had a sweetheart deal with Mr. Aristidethat gave the U.S. firm rates well below the international settlement rate. When I inquired about the company's Haiti business while preparing a Jan.2001 op-ed, I was immediately referred to a company lawyer who refused toeither confirm or deny that the company was even doing business in Haiti. In September 2005, Fusion told me it had always filed what was required at theFCC and denied making any illegal payments to Teleco.In 2001 Mr. Kennedy's office released a statement that he had no "joint venture, partnership or business arrangement with the president of Haiti orfor that matter, anyone in Haiti" and that he was not involved in runningFusion. Nevertheless, in a Feb. 7, 2001 op-ed in the Boston Globe, he wrote, "I was proud to help bring more than $1 million in private investment fromFusion into Haiti." That was peanuts when you consider that Teleco once hadannual revenues upwards of $60 million. By the time Mr. Aristide was forced into exile by a political uprising in 2004, the company was losing money.The whole thing might have been swept under the rug if it weren't forMichael Jewett, who in 2003 had been an employee at New Jersey-based IDT, headed by former Republican congressman Jim Courter. Like Fusion, IDT had anumber of seasoned politicos on its board.In March 2004 Mr. Jewett filed suit in federal court in Newark, N.J.alleging that he was fired from IDT because he objected to an illegal deal between the company and Mr. Aristide. Mr. Jewett's allegations seem to echothe charges swirling around Fusion. IDT responded much like Fusion,insisting that its arrangement with Haiti Teleco was a trade secret. In fact, IDT had a legal obligation to make its arrangement public and theinformation was unsealed, revealing that IDT had been granted a rate of ninecents per minute versus the FCC mandated rate of 23 cents. Mr. Jewett also claims in court documents that IDT agreed to make payments to an offshoreaccount in Turks and Caicos called "Mount Salem," ("Mont Salem" in French)for the benefit of Mr. Aristide.After Mr. Aristide was driven from power in February 2004, the interim government pried open Teleco's books and alleged that the company had beenlooted. In November 2005 it filed suit in U.S. district court in southernFlorida. "The fraudulent scheme to steal Teleco revenues was carried out in part through defendant Mont Salem," the government claimed, adding that, "AtAristide's direction, Inevil, Duperval and Beliard [Haitian nationals]directed at least two of the Class B carriers, IDT and Skytel, to make their payments for Teleco's services to Mont Salem. At Aristide's direction,Teleco's then-counsel also caused Teleco to request at least one other ClassB carrier, Fusion, to make payments through Mont Salem." Mr. Jewett's case has already revealed a lot, but it won't tell Haitianswhere millions of dollars in lost Teleco revenues went throughout the 1990s.That will require a more thorough airing, such as the civil suit Haiti filed in Florida. Unfortunately, Haiti has had to withdraw its suit for lack offunds. Its request for a share of assets forfeited by Haitian drug kingpins-- which could be used to reinstate the suit and pay legal fees -- has been resisted by the DOJ. First DOJ said it couldn't release the assets becausethe cases were on appeal. Now it says that it doesn't yet have the forfeitedassets.Another way to get at the truth would be if DOJ used the mountain of evidence it seems to be sitting on to indict Mr. Aristide, since he hasoften asserted that he won't remain silent about his dealings with highlyplaced American politicians if he is brought to trial. Why the DOJ would turn down an offer like that is a mystery, a little like the missing file.