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Incoming Haiti Leader Questioned About Corruption Suspicions

  • Associated Press

FILE - Jovenel Moise addresses the media next to his wife Martine after winning 55.67 percent of the vote in the Nov. 20 presidential election, according to the electoral council, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Nov. 28, 2016.

A judge questioned Haiti's president-elect on Wednesday about a confidential report leaked during campaigning that suggests he might have laundered money and received special treatment to get loans in years before the businessman ran for the country's highest political office.

Jovenel Moise, who is scheduled to be inaugurated as Haiti's next leader Feb. 7, met with a Haitian judge in a closed-door session that lasted four hours. Moise said he decided to go to the court voluntarily without an attorney because he has nothing to hide and respects the law.

Moise asserts all of his business dealings are above board. He blames rivals of manufacturing the allegations to "create instability'' in the deeply divided nation with a long history of political tumult and damage his reputation before his swearing-in ceremony.

"Under my administration no one will be able to use the justice system to destroy someone,'' he told reporters following the session with the judge of instruction, adding that he believed that institutional weakness was also a reason behind the report by Haiti's Central Financial Intelligence Unit and separate allegations that he received sweetheart loans from a state-owned bank.

Judge Bredy Fabien, who is also hearing testimony from others, will have to decide whether there's evidence for a case to proceed or if the matter should be dismissed. It's a secretive process akin to a U.S. grand jury that can take months.

Four opposition senators who recently revived questions about the report are pressing for it to be fully investigated before Moise's oath-of-office ceremony in about two weeks.

The watchdog agency's leaked report examines bank accounts held by Moise, his wife and his businesses from 2007 until 2013. Before being hand-picked in 2015 by ex-President Michel Martelly to become his political faction's presidential candidate, Moise was an entrepreneur from northern Haiti who started an auto parts company, a water-distribution business and a public-private banana plantation launched in 2014 called Agritrans.

Among other things, the administrative report questions sizable deposits into the accounts and purchases of 45 vehicles registered in Moise's name.

The judge is also weighing allegations that the state-owned Haitian Popular Bank lent Moise cash without going through the normal procedures, which is a longstanding perk for politically-connected Haitians.

Members of Moise's Tet Kale party have suggested that the report was leaked at the height of campaigning for a presidential election redo at the urging of outgoing caretaker President Jocelerme Privert's administration. Privert's government denies any involvement.

Moise easily won a November election redo with 55 percent of the votes amid low turnout. The first-round victory came more than a year after Moise topped an initial presidential vote that was eventually thrown out for suspicions of alleged fraud, leading to a lengthy period of political limbo.

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