THE MAGAZINE

Haitian Money Laundering

By Robert Elliott

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is helping fund two new programs in Haiti with the goal of increasing transparency of financial transactions there. Haiti is one of the least developed and most corrupt nations in the western hemisphere—and one of the world's poorest. As such, it has been a hotbed of financial crimes, such as money laundering.

One program is a new Web-based application for reporting and tracking suspicious financial transactions and excessive customer bank movements. The site would be operated by the Haitian government's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

"The implementation of the system not only improves the ability of the Haitian authorities to track suspicious financial transactions, it also improves the efficiency of business processes at the commercial banks, and has helped to clarify the execution of the Money Laundering and Drug Trafficking Law," USAID said in a statement.

The aforementioned law, enacted by Haiti in 2001, specifically provides that the Caribbean nation cooperate with other countries to fight money laundering and facilitate extraditions and asset seizures of drug traffickers. The law stipulates that forfeiture and seizure of assets are contingent upon convictions.

Haiti ranked as the most corrupt nation in the world in 2006 by Transparency International, beating out Burma and Iraq. According to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince (the capital), the country has become a key conduit for drug traffickers transporting cocaine from South America to the United States and, to a lesser extent, to Europe.

American officials malign the police for a "long history of corruption," while they lambaste the judicial system as "dysfunctional, its prosecutors and judges susceptible to bribes and intimidation."

U.S. authorities point to other barriers to Haiti's ability to curb the drug trade and corrupt practices. The country has 1,125 miles of unprotected shoreline as well as many uncontrolled seaports and clandestine airstrips. The country also has weak democratic institutions and a longstanding convivial relationship between the police and drug runners. "Drug trafficking organizations operate with impunity, exploiting the instability and the weak institutions in the country," the U.S. Embassy in Haiti said.

The southern coast of the country is one of the preferred destinations for "go-fast boats" with cocaine cargoes that have traveled directly from the north shores of Colombia. The speedboats meet up with Haitian fishing vessels that remain offshore near coastal towns, the embassy said.

By air, drug-laden planes landing in the area of the border with the neighboring Dominican Republic have increased dramatically in recent years, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. "Cocaine airdrops and sea cargo shipments from Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama were also reportedly on the rise," the U.S. Embassy said. Marijuana also arrives at Haitian seaports along the country's southern claw, to be shipped directly to the United States.

All of the subsequent drug money flowing through the banking system triggered the FIU's push for the new reporting system to combat money laundering. Jean Yves No´┐Żl, director of Haiti's Financial Information Central Unit, was quoted in the Caribbean News as saying the country needed "a method and a transparent procedure in order to make available all financial information of the banks and guarantee the impartiality of the anti-corruption machine."

USAID director Paul Teubner said the new data-processing software should allow the banking system and the government to better police money-laundering activities.

USAID provided the funding for the network's electronic equipment, along with spare parts and support power systems. A Haitian company, Solution SA, under the control of SRA International, is carrying out the project.

To pave the way for the new network, USAID is also working with the Haitian Ministry of Economy and Finance to expand its Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) in Port-au-Prince. The computer network connects the procurement operations of key government institutions to the ministry, allowing it to monitor overall expenditures, raise transparency in financial operations, and fight official fraud and waste. The MAN expansion encompasses the installation of IT infrastructure, along with training, maintenance, and technical advice.

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