'Baby Doc' charged with corruption on return to Haiti

Two days after returning to an astonished Haiti after almost 25 years of exile in France, former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier was charged with corruption, theft, misappropriation of funds and various other crimes last night, in relation to allegations of mass brutality and unfettered corruption during his 15 years of rule.

The latest act in the Duvalier drama began when the country's top prosecutor and its most senior judge arrived at the hotel where he had been hiding out since arriving on Sunday evening. Scores of police took positions outside the hotel and a prison van parked across from its entrance.

Shortly afterwards, the ex-despot, who was just 19 when he assumed power as "president for life" from his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1971, was led out of the building and bundled into a waiting vehicle. He was not wearing handcuffs and when journalists asked if he was being arrested he remained silent while his long-time companion, Veronique Roy, laughed at the question. Reuters reported that Duvalier had been taken into custody for additional discussions about the possibility of his being prosecuted for crimes committed when he was in power before he was driven to exile in France by a popular uprising in 1986.

"His fate is now in the hands of the investigating judge. We have brought charges against him," said Port-au-Prince chief prosecutor, Aristidas Auguste. A judge will now decide whether to prosecute him.

Human rights groups insist Haiti should try him for crimes committed under his and his father's regimes. According to Human Rights Watch the father-son duo ordered the deaths of between 20,000 and 30,000 civilians while they bled money from the state.

"Official torture and murder were commonplace under both father and son," it said. "The Duvaliers stunted civil society with harsh repression of any signs of independence among political parties, trade unions and the press."

There is still no clear information on why Duvalier came to Haiti or how long he intended to stay.

"Let's see if they put him in prison," Henry Robert Sterlin, a former Haitian ambassador under the Duvalier regime and a de facto spokesman for him, said in Port-au-Prince after his detention by police. In theory, the sudden appearance of Duvalier on Haitian soil makes it far easier for the authorities there to pursue charges against him.

But the damage done by last year's earthquake and an impasse left by inconclusive presidential elections last November have left the apparatus of state more tattered than ever and mounting a case may be beyond the means of Haiti. "He will be questioned and he will remain at the disposal of the judicial system," a government official said. "They will determine whether to prosecute him."

While some in the crowd outside the hotel booed Baby Doc as he was led out, others cheered and chased the vehicle as it carried him away.

The scene was a reminder that the ex-president may still have some backing in the country. While Baby Doc is remembered worldwide for greed and butchery, many in Haiti were not alive during his rule and have no memories of his rule.

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