By Joe Colas
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- A Haitian prosecutor said on Tuesday a well-known businessman and three customs functionaries have been arrested on contraband and corruption charges, taking to a record 94 the number of people jailed or indicted for corrupt practices over the past several months in the Caribbean country.
Francisco Rene, Haitian prosecutor
Prosecutor Francisco Rene said entrepreneur Philippe Victor Chatelin was arrested on Tuesday in connection with a corruption and contraband case that involved several customs functionaries, including Varnel Pierre-Louis, arrested on Monday. The two others were taken to police custody on Friday.
"We have arrested one important businessman and 3 customs functionaries and we are looking for others involved with contraband and corruption," Rene told HCNN in an interview on Tuesday.
"We are determined to fight corruption and I want to tell those who are involved with corruption to give it up, because they will be arrested," said Rene.
At least 90 people, including government functionaries, had already been detained or indicted for corruption over the past 12 months, and several dozen more cases have been submitted to the prosecutor's office or are being examined by anti-corruption officials.
Some 63 people have been indicted in the tuition-free education program fund embezzlement case, while 27 other cases have to do with different corruption cases in the public administration.
The director-general for the country's anti-corruption unit, Antoine Atouriste, said his office has already seen signs of caution on the part of some alleged corrupt actors who are now afraid of being arrested, contrarily to previous times.
"94 people have detained or indicted for corruption in the country. Haiti has done, in a short period of time, more than it has in over 200 years," Atouriste told HCNN. "But this is very far from being enough because there are so many other corrupt people who need to face justice, in order to deter other potential wrongdoers," Atouriste said.
Atouriste called on Parliament to complete the approval process of a rigid anti-corruption law, submitted by his office through the government. The law has already been approved by the Senate, but the lower house has yet to follow suit.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, Kedler Augustin, said, "Corruption has traditionally been common currency in the country's public administration, but governments had failed to take necessary actions to tackle the scourge."
The US State Department special coordinator for Haiti, Thomas C. Adams, acknowledged last week that the current Haitian government has done more efforts to fight corruption than any of its predecessors.
The comment, made during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in Washington, has upset government opponents who claim corruption has been practiced and condoned at the highest level of the administration of President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Lamothe.
"This government is marred in corruption at the highest level. Anything they say they do to fight corruption is propaganda," said Paul Denis, an outspoken voice of the opposition, who was part of the previous government. Several other opponents of the government have similar comments.
The prime minister's spokesman called the accusations unfounded and only politically motivated.
"The fact is that this government is actively and concretely acting against corruption and political opponents are unable to show any evidence of corruption against any of the government leaders," said Augustin.
"The fact that had always been the case in the past, people tend to believe it is the same old thing," said Augustin.
"And when the State Department acknowledges our anti-corruption efforts, and this is for the first time they ever have such comments about Haiti, I hope people understand it is a good thing for the whole country," he said.
Lamothe recently mentioned the fact that, for the first time, "all members of government and other key fund managers have, indiscriminately, submitted, after taking office, a declaration of their current assets to facilitate the fight against illicit enrichment and corruption."