Haiti's president-elect hit with money laundering allegation

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - President-elect Jovenel Moise has pledged to stamp out corruption and strengthen Haiti’s legal institutions, but even before taking office on Feb. 7, he faces a government allegation of money laundering.

Jovenel Moise, the winner of Haiti's presidential election, speaks during an interview in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jeanty Junior Augustin/Files

A political newcomer, Moise was declared winner of the long-delayed election on Jan. 3 for the Bald Heads Party of Haiti’s last elected president Michel Martelly, although opponents have said they will not accept his victory.

The Central Unit of Financial Intelligence (UCREF), a government institution, concluded in a report there were indications Moise had laundered money through a personal account he held with his wife.

Moise denies the allegation. He said on Wednesday that he had hired a lawyer to help him clear his name. The report is being reviewed by a judge.

“I am a hard-working entrepreneur. I started from scratch but I have always acted with honesty and integrity,” Moise said in a phone interview.

“It is a political maneuver. It is a form of blackmail as we are about to form the government.”

Moise has said repeatedly that he would tackle graft, reform institutions and boost the impoverished nation’s economy.

UCREF received its first tip against Moise in 2013, under the Martelly presidency. The information in the report came directly from Haiti’s financial institutions, UCREF’s head Sonel Jean-Francois told journalists.

The case resurfaced in January after police arrested Moise ally and senator-elect Guy Philippe, who was extradited to the United States to face charges of money laundering and drug trafficking.

A group of four senators sent a letter dated Jan. 16 to the president of the Senate, suggesting the report be studied and receive “appropriate treatment” before any inauguration.

The leaked report said there had been more than $5 million in suspicious transfers made through a personal account at the National Credit Bank between January 2012 and April 2013.

Moise has stated that he has a certificate proving the account was in gourdes, not dollars, which would make the value of the transactions worth about 40 times less.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the allegations. The judge in the case said he was scheduled to meet bank representatives on Friday.

People familiar with the case said it was unlikely to be settled before Moise takes power, but would probably not derail his ascent.

“People who don’t like him will use it against him and people who support him will (say) ... the report is fake,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti-born analyst at the University of Virginia.

Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva; Editing by Dave Graham and Grant McCool