A retired U.S. Army colonel and founder of a U.S.-based nonprofit Haitian diaspora organization has been indicted on charges that he tried to bribe foreign officials involved in an $84 million port project in Haiti.
Joseph Baptiste, who has a dental practice in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, was charged Wednesday with six violations, including one count each of conspiracy and of money laundering.
The indictment was filed in the northeastern state of Massachusetts. Baptiste is alleged to have carried out parts of his bribery plan in its capital city, Boston, as well as in Haiti. The case grew out of a 2014 U.S. government investigation into some Haitian-American business people suspected of trying to bribe Haitian government officials to get favorable business deals in the Caribbean country.
In the indictment, Baptiste, 64, is accused of conspiring "to bribe foreign officials to obtain and retain business" connected with the port project in Môle-Saint-Nicolas, an area along Haiti’s northwest coast. It also accuses him of trying to funnel a $50,000 payment through the nonprofit he founded, the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians Inc. (NOAH). The organization supports democracy in Haiti, as well as medical and humanitarian relief there, according to the information service Guide Star.
The indictment alleges that Baptiste used the money for personal gain.
Baptiste’s lawyer, Donald LaRoche, told VOA his client had received $50,000 for investment purposes only. "They don’t have any proof that this was for corruption," LaRoche said when reached by phone Thursday.
LaRoche said he expected Baptiste to be arraigned in a Massachusetts court sometime next week.
The Miami Herald, in a story published Wednesday, noted that Baptiste was "a highly sought-after member of the Haitian-American community." It said he also "informally advised the U.S. State Department" on Haiti issues and "regularly hosted Haitian dignitaries – and Democrats running for U.S. office – at his home" in Fulton, Maryland.
A phone call Thursday to the number listed for NOAH was answered by an employee at Baptiste’s dental practice. Baptiste was unavailable for comment.
VOA Creole Service’s Jean-Pierre Leroy contributed to this report.