Canada’s embassy in Haiti taken for $1.7 million by gang of swindlers and fraudsters, internal report reveals

A probe uncovered systematic fabrication of documents, fraudulent bills, forged signatures, misdirected cheques and more

July 4, 2018
7:27 PM EDT

Canada’s embassy in Haiti was overrun by a criminal organization after more than a dozen locals hired to work at the diplomatic mission in Port-au-Prince swindled more than $1.7 million through numerous schemes and frauds, internal investigation reports reveal.

An internal probe of the embassy’s finances and staffing from 2015 to 2016 uncovered systematic fabrication of documents, fraudulent bills, forged signatures, misdirected cheques, secret commissions and personal use of Canada’s diplomatic license plates.

A Canadian court has now branded the local embassy employees a criminal organization.

The government revealed the amount of the loss last year but the National Post has learned new details of the extent of the frauds. Thirteen locally hired staff were implicated in the schemes and fired after longstanding swindles were revealed; five Canadian employees were disciplined and one was fired; another local worker fled to Canada, where he applied for refugee status.

The embassy’s initial suspicions were modest.

Two locally hired workers were spotted using Canadian diplomatic plates without authorization. Embassy staff discovered the two workers had been using embassy vehicles as their own for several years and one had even transferred ownership without embassy management noticing.

The two employees were fired but clues from that probe uncovered more serious suspicions of internal problems at the mission and, in January 2016, investigators from Global Affairs Canada’s special investigations branch arrived to examine the embassy’s books and interview employees.

Investigators uncovered a steady, slow siphoning of funds through fairly small contracts such as for roof renovations, lamppost installation, cleaning supplies, maintenance work, electronics and diplomatic cars. A variety of schemes and frauds were used including false invoices, bogus suppliers and money redirected to benefit local employees. The employees worked in various jobs at the embassy from advisers and receptionists to supervisors and property managers.

Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise is greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the G7 Outreach Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, June 9, 2018. LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty ImagesInvestigators found embassy employees conspired with local businesses in bid-rigging for contracts “to deceptively take advantage of the mission,” according to an investigative report.

For instance, a December 2015 contract for parking lot lampposts at the mission was awarded to a local business, but the payments were redirected from the company that won the contract to private individuals and, in some cases, to direct competitors of the approved firm.

In another case, $600,000 in cleaning and maintenance contracts was awarded to two companies: one was owned by the aunt of a Canadian woman of Haitian origin working for the embassy as an adviser and the other by her husband.

Investigators found “irregularities” with the signatures on the quotes, contracts, invoices, receipts and cheques of the two firms. Signatures on nine of the 13 business receipts for the cleaning products suggested the money was redirected to the female employee and her husband through forged signatures.

A receptionist also created invoices, contracts and receipts for nearly $7,000 in payments for cleaning products and then endorsed and cashed the cheques. The payments were in the name of what investigators called a “phantom company.”

Some of the employees were adding personal orders onto embassy orders for consumer goods from abroad to avoid paying the cost of transportation, insurance or customs clearance.

Investigators found several similar schemes spanning years. During the investigation, some of the employees confessed to their involvement, a report says.

It appears that the group was well organized and had put in place a well-established system to be able to carry out these crimes repeatedly over a number of years

Caught up in the investigation was Paulin Janvier.

Janvier, a Haitian man, joined the mission’s staff in 2011 as part of the immigration program. By June 2012, he had become the Property and Material Assistant for the embassy, responsible for buying maintenance products for the embassy and appliances and electronic equipment for diplomatic staff homes. He was also in charge of equipment storage for the Canadian mission.

More than a year after the embassy probe was launched, investigators interviewed Janvier about any involvement in the schemes. He “denied it vigorously,” a report says.

Unlike many of his colleagues, investigators couldn’t prove he abused his position to obtain secret commissions, but his central role as intermediary with the companies was highly suspicious, the report says. Investigators found his evidence evasive and believed that, because of his position, he could not have been unaware of the scheming. Investigators believed he was hiding the involvement of others.

Janvier was laid off shortly after his interview pending the outcome of the investigation. He refuted the allegations in the investigative report but did not wait around for a conclusion. He left Haiti in September 2016 for the United States and then travelled to Canada. At the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing, connecting New York with Quebec, he claimed refugee status.

Children are seen playing football in the commune of Petion Ville, in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, on May 27, 2018. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty ImagesIn court documents he said there was no need to stay until the probe was complete since he knew he would be fired — as his colleagues all were.

Canada Border Services Agency flagged his application and his refugee claim was suspended. On Aug. 15, 2017, the Immigration and Refugee Board found Janvier inadmissible to Canada for engaging in activities that were part of a criminal organization’s defrauding of the Canadian government.

The total loss to Canada was $1,728,150.

“It appears that the group was well organized and had put in place a well-established system to be able to carry out these crimes repeatedly over a number of years,” the IRB said in its decision.

Facing deportation, Janvier appealed the decision to the Federal Court.

In denying Janvier’s appeal, Federal Court Judge Jocelyne Gagné said the IRB had ample reason to consider the local embassy staff a criminal organization because they acted together to commit crimes against Canada for financial benefit. Gagné also accepted that it was reasonable for the IRB to consider Janvier a participant in the criminal organization’s schemes.

Toni Jedid, lawyer for Janvier, said there is a right to appeal the decision but does not yet know the position of his client. He declined to comment further.

When the fraud was first revealed, officials at Global Affairs Canada ordered audits of a number of embassies it considered similarly at risk.

Elizabeth Reid, a spokeswoman for GAC, said the department tries to recover money when swindled or stolen.

“Global Affairs Canada takes the risk and allegations of fraud, including at missions abroad, very seriously. Respect for taxpayers’ money is a top priority,” Reid said. “Individuals responsible are held accountable, including through administrative and disciplinary measures, and corrective actions quickly taken to prevent it from happening again.”


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