Published: 10 Dec 2009 19:03:41 PST From Forbes.com:
Howard Jonas’ troubled telecommunications company IDT focuses on everything from oil shale to prepaid calling cards. But this week IDT has been paying particular attention to events in a Miami, Florida courthouse
• On Monday Jean Rene Duperval, former director of international relations at Haiti’s state-owned telecommunications monopoly, made an appearance there after the Haitian national police arrested him over the weekend and shipped him to the U.S. The U.S. government charged Duperval with several counts of money laundering related to a bribery probe of telecommunications deals done in Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Haiti.
The feds accuse Duperval of participating in a scheme that saw a Miami telecom outfit pay more than $800,000 to shell companies used to pay bribes to Haitian government officials connected to Haiti Teleco.. In return, the U.S. government alleges the Miami firm got preferred telecommunications rates, reducing the number of minutes for which payment was owed, and a variety of other credits. Duperval was indicted along with two executives of the Miami firm, who were charged with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Why does IDT ( IDT – news – people ) care? Duperval signed a carrier service agreement with the Newark, N.J.-based company while working as director of international relations at Telecommunications D’Haiti, or Haiti Teleco. That agreement was filed by IDT with the Federal Communications Commission in 2007, and the FCC later slapped IDT with a $1.3 million notice for having earlier repeatedly failed to file the contract. The FCC and IDT entered into a consent decree last year on the issue that saw IDT pay $400,000.
The Justice Department’s allegations involving Duperval resemble those in a civil suit by former IDT employee Michael Jewett, who sued IDT in 2004 saying the company fired him because he refused to cooperate with IDT’s deal with Haiti Teleco. The civil suit kicked off a Department of Justice investigation, which the U.S. government confirmed is still ongoing, according to a filing IDT made with the Securities&Exchange Commission in late October. IDT says the company and its board initiated independent investigations by outside counsel and that the investigations did not find “any evidence” that the company made improper payments to foreign officials in Haiti.
In its dealings with Haiti Teleco officials, IDT got the right to terminate calls in Haiti at favorable rates and agreed to make monthly settlement deposits not at Haiti Teleco, but to a company called Mont Salem that belonged to then Haitian President Aristide, Jewett alleges in his suit.
In a civil suit filed in federal court in Miami by the Haitian government against Aristide and Duperval that was later abandoned, the Haitian government alleged that Mont Salem “was used to receive and distribute kickbacks and bribes” by U.S. and Canadian firms including IDT. At Aristide’s direction, the suit alleged, Duperval helped direct IDT to make payments for Haiti Teleco’s services to Mont Salem. AT&T ( T – news – people ) was asked, but refused to make payments to Mont Salem, the suit alleged.
IDT declined to comment citing ongoing litigation and investigations. The Department of Justice also declined to comment on its investigation of IDT. Duperval is scheduled to be arraigned in early January and his lawyer could not be reached for comment.
The indictment of Duperval is the latest development in the federal bribery investigation of Haitian telecom deals. In April Antonio Perez, the former controller of the Miami telecom outfit, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit FCPA violations and money laundering for his role in the payment of bribes to former officials of Haiti Teleco. A few weeks later Juan Diaz, the president of a shell intermediary company, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering.
The Justice Department has made enforcing the anti-bribery law a top priority, indicting 19 individuals this year and investigating more than 120 companies on five continents.