Catherine Wilson, AP, herald.com (Miami), Feb. 25
MIAMI — Embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide controls 85 percent of the cocaine flow through the impoverished nation, an expelled druglord said in a tirade Wednesday as he was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.
“He turned the country into a narco-country,” said Beaudoin “Jacques” Ketant, who blames Aristide for his brother’s killing last year. “The man is a druglord. He controlled the drug world in Haiti.”
With payoffs to government officials from Aristide on down, defense attorney Ruben Oliva said: “Certainly the government was the godfather. Everyone in Haiti that was engaged in this activity had to pay the government.”
Ira Kurzban, a Miami attorney for the Haitian government, flatly dismissed the allegations from “a lying, convicted drug dealer” who faced a life sentence unless he got a plea bargain.
“I defy anyone to provide proof about the nonsense he’s telling the U.S. government to save his own skin,” said Kurzban, reached at his law office and told of Ketant’s tirade.
Ketant, 40, was fined $15 million and ordered to forfeit another $15 million, mostly property that is out of reach in Haiti. Prosecutors said he smuggled his way to a “Midas-like” fortune, including an $8 million villa, four other houses, paintings by Monet and Picasso, $5 million cash and bank accounts in Haiti and the Bahamas. A daughter at Emory University drives a Mercedes-Benz.
Ketant received three months short of the maximum under a plea deal for money laundering and allegedly shepherding 41 tons of drugs for Colombia’s Cali, Medellin and Baranquilla cartels through Haiti to the United States from 1987 to 1996.
He was indicted in 1997 but lived a life of luxury until last June. Aristide threw him out of the country after Ketant and his bodyguards were accused of beating an official at an elite school attended by his son and the children of Haitian officials and U.S. diplomats.
Ketant admitted staying in the drug business until his ouster, and prosecutor John Kastrenakes blamed Ketant for smuggling $10 million in drugs in his last year alone. Ketant claims Haiti handles 20 percent of U.S.-bound cocaine shipments.
Prosecutors did not offer to cut Ketant’s sentence based on his cooperation, and Kastrenakes asked for the maximum based on “a continued deception” and “shell game” that prevents any of his assets from being turned over.
Oliva blamed the unrest in Haiti for tying up Ketant’s property and money, and Ketant accused his ex-wife Sibylle Joseph of looting his mansion with help from Haitian police within two weeks of what he called his kidnapping.
“In my view, he gets an ‘A’ for effort and an ‘F’ for success,” said U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno. “The words are meaningless without actions. It’s like promises.”
The judge questioned how someone who led a cocaine smuggling empire and who considered himself a “compadre” of Aristide could instantly lose all power and money.
“I’ve been paying him throughout the years,” Ketant said. “He betrayed me just like Judas betrayed Jesus.”
If Ketant’s claims are true, the judge said something will happen. But he was disturbed by the corruption produced in both Haiti and the United States.
“As bad as the cocaine is, what is horrible is also the corruption,” said Moreno, who noted he sentenced a U.S. immigration inspector in Miami for life for his role in the smuggling.
Ketant was charged with paying off one-time Haitian strongman Joseph Michel Francois as well as airport employees in Miami, New York and Port-au-Prince to ignore drug couriers.
Co-defendants convicted in 1998 received prison sentences ranging from six years to life.
Francois, Port-au-Prince’s police chief after a 1991 coup, fled to Honduras in 1996 and has not been tried on the drug charges.