August 29, 2017 / 1:31 PM / 4 months ago

U.S. accuses retired colonel of Haitian bribery scheme

BOSTON (Reuters) - A retired U.S. Army colonel was arrested on Tuesday on charges that he conspired to bribe senior Haitian officials in connection with a planned $84 million port development project in the Caribbean country, U.S. prosecutors said.

Joseph Baptiste, a dentist who served on the board of a company that promoted the project, solicited bribes from undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agents posing as potential investors, federal prosecutors in Boston said.

Baptiste, a resident of Fulton, Maryland, was arrested in his home state, prosecutors said.

He was charged in a criminal complaint filed in Boston federal court with conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to commit money laundering.

A lawyer for Baptiste, 64, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors said the case stemmed from an investigation launched in 2014 into certain Haitian-American businessmen who were offering to help bribe Haitian officials in order to obtain or retain business in that nation.

During a meeting with an undercover agent in 2014, Baptiste explained how he could use a non-profit he controlled to conceal and facilitate bribe payments, the complaint said.

It said that when the agent asked if a “pay-to-play” system existed in Haiti, Baptiste responded: “I would say this, like, we’re tipping them to do the right thing; it’s like a tip.”

Baptiste told undercover agents that the bribe payments would go to high-level Haitian officials in order to secure approval of the port program, the first phase of which was estimated to cost $84 million, the complaint said.

FBI agents subsequently wired about $50,000 to the non-profit, whose stated mission was to help impoverished Haitians, prosecutors said.

Rather than use the money as bribe payments, Baptiste used it for personal purposes, according to prosecutors. They said he then intended to seek additional money from the agents to use for future graft payments.

The complaint said that Baptiste admitted as much in sworn declaration after federal agents approached him December 2015, and he subsequently agreed to plead guilty.

But the complaint said Baptiste recently indicated he did not plan to honor his plea agreement.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and W Simon

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