Closing arguments start in Miami trial of ex-Haitian official accused of bribe

BY JAY WEAVER Miami Herald

A former senior official in Haiti’s state-owned telecommunications company could learn his fate on money laundering charges in Miami federal court stemming from allegations that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from local businesses.

Justice Department prosecutors and defense attorneys will deliver closing arguments Monday in the trial of Haiti Teleco’s director of international relations, Jean Rene Duperval, who made an annual salary of $25,000 during the 2001-04 administration of former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Duperval, who owns a home in Miramar, is accused of pocketing $500,000 in alleged bribes from two Miami businesses that in turn received discounted long-distance phone rates and renewed contracts.

“It will be a picture of greed, corruption and deception,” prosecutor James Koukios told a 12-member jury during Duperval’s money-laundering trial last week. “It will be a picture of crime.”

Duperval is the first Haitian official to face trial in a foreign corruption case brought by the Justice Department — the result of a criminal investigation into bribery allegations against him and other officials, including Haiti’s former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The former president has not been charged.

If convicted, Duperval faces up to 20 years in prison.

During trial, Koukios unveiled evidence of Duperval’s business favors for Terra Telecommunications and Cinergy Telecommunications in exchange for kickbacks, including how the defendant set up a “shell” company and bank accounts.

“All the money can be traced back to Terra and Cinergy,” Koukios said.

But the attorney for Duperval, who was born and raised in Haiti and received an engineering degree in New York, painted a starkly different portrait of his client. John Bergendahl said if anything, Duperval helped turn around Haiti Teleco by renegotiating better terms for the state-owned telecom company between June 2003 and April 2004.

Last week, Bergendahl said that the jury must not find his client guilty because he did not receive bribery payments from Terra and Cinergy and therefore did not commit money laundering. He added that prosecutors have wrongly alleged that Duperval “misused his authority to give [Terra and Cinergy] a benefit.”

The defense attorney argued that the Haitian official who did fit that profile was Robert Antoine, who had served as Haiti Teleco’s director of international relations before Duperval in the Aristide administration.

In 2010, Antoine pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering, admitting he took more than $1 million in bribes from Terra and Cinergy in exchange for lower phone rates, discounted costs and contract renewals.

Prosecutors called Antoine, who was sentenced to four years in prison, as a witness in Duperval’s trial. He testified that as a consultant, he facilitated the exchange of bribes between the two Miami companies and Duperval.


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