Money transfer tax used for Martelly beach house among lawsuit allegations against Haitian leaders

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The lawsuit against Haiti’s last three presidents and remittances and telephone companies – Celestine c. Caribbean Air Mail — has been making its way through the courts since 2018. In 2021, a district court dismissed it on the grounds that US courts cannot invalidate another country’s laws. On Thursday, a three-judge federal panel weighed in, saying the case could proceed.

The Haitian Times dug into a 29-page decision on the United States Court of Appeals trial and the detailed Celestin v. Martelly to provide a summary. Below are 15 major allegations and legal developments you should know about based on this review.

  1. The defendants – representatives of the Haitian government and multinational corporations – conspired to fix the prices of remittances and phone calls from the United States to Haiti. The defendants reportedly agreed to produce official documents, including a presidential decree and two circulars from the Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BRH) to disguise their agreement as a tax for national education programs.
  1. Martelly allegedly orchestrated a high-profile price-fixing deal with the defendant companies before he became president in 2011. The “mechanism” for implementing the deal was a presidential decree and two circulars from the Bank of the Republic of Haiti that Martelly would publish after taking office.
  1. The presidential decree sets a “floor price for all incoming international calls[s]at $0.23 per minute and demanded that $0.05 per minute be “returned to the government”. Likewise, the Circulars “commemorated” the Defendants’ agreement to add a $1.50 fee to food and cash shipments sent to Haiti from certain countries, including the United States.
  1. Under the presidential order and the circulars, the defendant companies and Natcom perceived these surcharges as a condition of eligibility to provide services.
  1. Martelly represented to the public that these policies would generate revenue to support a Haitian compulsory education program. But in fact, say the plaintiffs, no such program existed.
  1. On the contrary, only a few months after the publication of the presidential decree, “we discovered that [$26] million in the new National Education Fund were missing.” Plaintiffs assert that each Corporate Defendant withheld a portion of the fees it collected rather than forwarding the full amount to the Haitian Treasury.
  1. Martelly and his successors Jocelerme Privert and Jovenel Moise, during their respective terms, also personally benefited from the fees, according to the lawsuit.
  1. For example, according to one charge, Martelly used transfer tax money for a beach house.
  1. Moreover, the presidential decree and the circulars went against Haitian law because “only the parliament can levy taxes and royalties for the benefit of the state”. As part of the scheme, according to the plaintiffs, the defendants told customers that these fees were in fact collected under a “statutory tax” for education.
  1. A 2021 district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss all claims based on (1) the state’s legal doctrine and (2) in the alternative, as to certain defendants, forum non conveniens.
  1. On March 31, a panel of federal judges elected to OVERRIDE the district court’s dismissal of the antitrust complaint under the act of state doctrine and to OVERRIDE the dismissal of all fifteen complaints under the state law for retesting to the appropriate standard. he also REFERRED the case for further processing.
  1. We can give the Presidential Order and the Circulars their full purported legal effect and conclude that the plaintiffs have plausibly alleged illegal price fixing under the Sherman Act.
  1. Plaintiffs’ antitrust action does not depend on “the validity of the acts alleged, but on their occurrence” in a manner that engages liability.
  1. The plaintiffs are listed as follows: Odilon S. Celestin, Widimir Romelien, Goldie Lamothe-Alexandre, Vincent Marazita
  2. The defendants are listed as follows: The Caribbean Air Mail, Inc., Western Union, Unitransfer USA Inc., Unibank SA, Unigestion Holding, SA, DBA Digicel Haiti, Western Union Financial Services Inc., Michel Joseph Martelly, Jocelerme Privert, Jovenel Moise, Natcom SA, Government of Haiti

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