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Haiti's public works minister is accused of intimidating the country's watchdog agency

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Haiti's public works minister showed up at the offices of the government's watchdog agency Wednesday. But it wasn't an ordinary visit.

Joiseus Nader was accompanied by heavily armed men dressed in ski masks and black clothing. While they stood guard, civilians accompanying them snapped photos and took videos of some of the 300 employees and sensitive documents that are part of an ongoing corruption probe.

Now Nader is being accused of intimidation.

"When you come into an institution with a group of heavily armed men who have their faces covered and dressed in black, and whom we can't even identify if they are police and they cross all of the perimeters to go into an area that is extremely sensitive where even some of the judges don't go to, that is nothing more than an act of intimidation," Rogavil Boisguene, the president of the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, told The Miami Herald after Nader and his group left in unmarked vehicles. "It was a threat to prevent the court from doing its job."

The Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes is the equivalent of the U.S. Government Accountability Office. It has been at the forefront of Haiti's damning corruption investigation into how Haitian governments have spent $2 billion in Venezuela's PetroCaribe petroleum-import finance project, especially after the country's 2010 earthquake.

It has also been the target of attacks by Nader and President Jovenel Moise, who earlier this month told the Haitian public he wants to curb the court's watchdog powers after judges refused to sign off on a draft of a no-bid contract between the Haitian government and General Electric.

 

More recently, a number of lawyers have cited the independent body as a possible recourse for a legal challenge against Moise's presidential decree creating a new Provisional Electoral Council that they say violates the country's 1987 constitution.

Boisguene said he was in his office when he was informed that Nader had showed up at the court, unannounced, and was at the gate. He told employees to let him in. When he didn't see the minister, he went out into the hallway and that's when he saw the minister and his entourage in an unauthorized area. While some employees were trying to get them to leave, others were trying to avoid having their pictures taken out of fear they would be made targets, Boisguene said.

Hearing about Boisguene's difficulty over radio, a crowd including lawyers and human rights defenders gathered outside the building. Shouting Nader's name, they chanted "tie them up," "tie them up."

Boisguene, meanwhile, called a justice of the peace and Haitian Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe, who called the incident by his minister "regrettable."

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