Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Baby Doc rocks the cash box

One of the great things about being a dictator is the concept that the state and the maximum leader are a united entity, aka, l'etat c'est moi. This concept is especially useful when it comes to building a retirement fund, and you're willing to play fast and loose with the barrier between public money and your own private bank account.

There have been many dictators who have been described as thieves, but only a select few have been rapacious enough to be described as kleptocrats, that is, running a form of government whose very basis is stealing everything that isn't nailed down. Among the most famous of the 20th century's kleptocrats were Haiti's infamous Duvalier dynasty, and both François "Papa Doc" Duvalier as well as his corpulent successor, son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, were two of the most talented kleptocrats ever born.

During their 29 year rule, the Duvalier dynasty had the dubious distinction of turning an already poor Haiti into the poorest nation in the entire western hemisphere, and among the very poorest on earth. Corruption, always a problem in Haitian history, was kicked into overdrive, and the state even dabbled with extortion, using their feared secret policemen (the Tonton Macoutes) as bagmen to shake down the public for funds ostensibly intended for chimerical government projects, and instead, went straight to the Duvalier's pockets. When Papa Doc kicked the bucket in 1971, Baby Doc took over right where his old man left off, trying to squeeze every last cent from his terrified citizenry. By the time Baby Doc was forced into exile in 1986, the Duvalier dictatorship had stolen enough money to last several lifetimes.

After 21 years of living the high life in Cannes, France as one of the world's most sordid political refugees, the years of doling out for champagne, Ferrari maintenance and most ruinous of all, a divorce from his wife Michèle, have finally caught up with him: he's broke. Almost flat broke, in fact. So naturally, Baby Doc is on the prowl for any recoverable financial assets that might help get him back on his feet, and he appears to have hit the jackpot. Baby Doc is set to recover nearly $6.5 million dollars in embezzled money from heretofore frozen Swiss bank accounts when the clock runs out on a challenge to the funds by various Haitian governments.

Apparently, the Swiss government can only freeze assets for a certain length of time, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Haiti's infamously disorganized governments have failed to perform any of the legal work to recover the Duvalier fortune within the required time limit, so Jean-Claude has patiently waited for the clock to expire before taking control of the money. The Haitian government is upset, if only because they, along with Baby Doc, the Swiss, and everyone else on earth, knows that the accounts contain stolen money, but perhaps that should have spurred them to work more diligently to recover it? Then again, it may very well have cost more than $6.5 million in legal fees to recover it, so who can say for sure?

For now, though, it looks like Baby Doc will be getting the last laugh ... and the $6.5 million. I just wonder how long it will take him to blow through this fortune.

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