Michel Martelly,
Former Haiti President Michel Martelly is accused of using some transfer tax money meant for a Haitian compulsory education program for a beach house instead. Photo credit: Associated Press

The lawsuit against Haiti’s last three presidents and remittances and phone companies — Celestin v. Caribbean Air Mail — has been winding its way through the courts since 2018. In 2021, a district court dismissed it on the grounds that United States courts cannot render another country’s laws invalid. On Thursday, a federal panel of three judges weighed in, saying the case may proceed.

The Haitian Times dug through a 29-page ruling on the lawsuit from the United States Court of Appeals and the Celestin v. Martelly detailed lawsuit to provide a recap. Below are 15 major allegations and legal developments to know about based on that review.

  1. Defendants— Haitian government officials and multinational corporations—conspired to fix the  prices of remittances and telephone calls from the United States to Haiti. The defendants allegedly agreed to produce official instruments, including a Presidential Order and two Circulars of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BRH) to disguise their agreement as a tax for domestic education programs.
  1. Martelly allegedly orchestrated a far-reaching price-fixing agreement with the Corporate Defendants before becoming President in 2011. The  “mechanism” for implementing the agreement was a Presidential Order and two Circulars of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti that Martelly would issue after taking office.
  1. The Presidential Order set a “floor price for all incoming international call[s]” at $0.23 per minute and required that $0.05 per minute be “turned over to the Government.” Similarly, the Circulars “memorialized” Defendants’ agreement to add a $1.50 fee to remittances of food and money sent to Haiti from certain countries, including the United States.
  1. Under both the Presidential Order and the Circulars, the Corporate Defendants and Natcom collected these surcharges as a condition of eligibility to provide services.
  1. Martelly represented to the public that these policies would raise revenues  to support a Haitian compulsory education program. But in fact, Plaintiffs say, no such program existed.
  1. Rather, just months after publication of the Presidential Order, “it was discovered that [$26] million in the new National Fund for Education was missing.” Plaintiffs assert that each Corporate Defendant retained a portion of the fees it collected rather than transmitting the full amount to the Haitian treasury. 
  1. Martelly, and successors Jocelerme Privert and Jovenel Moise, during their respective terms, profited personally from the fees as well, according to the suit. 
  1. For example, according to one accusation, Martelly used the transfer tax money for a beach house.
  1. Furthermore, the Presidential Order and Circulars ran afoul of Haitian law because “only the parliament may raise taxes and fees for the benefit of the state.” As part of the scheme, Plaintiffs allege, Defendants told customers that these fees were in fact collected pursuant to a “lawful tax” for education.
  1. A district court in 2021 granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss all claims based on (1) the act of state doctrine and (2) in the alternative, as to some Defendants, forum non conveniens.
  1. A federal panel of judges on March 31 chose to REVERSE the district court’s dismissal of the antitrust claim under the act of state doctrine and VACATE the dismissal of the fifteen state-law claims for reanalysis under the proper standard. it also REMANDED the case for further proceedings.
  1. We may give the Presidential Order and Circulars their full purported legal effect and still conclude that Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged illegal price-fixing under the Sherman Act.
  1. Plaintiffs’ antitrust claim depends not on “whether the alleged acts are valid, but whether they occurred” in a way that gives rise to liability. 
  1. The plaintiffs are listed as: Odilon S. Celestin, Widimir Romelien, Goldie Lamothe-Alexandre, Vincent Marazita
  2. The defendants are listed as: The Caribbean Air Mail, Inc., Western Union, Unitransfer USA Inc., Unibank S.A., Unigestion Holding, S.A., DBA Digicel Haiti, Western Union Financial Services Inc., Michel Joseph Martelly, Jocelerme Privert, Jovenel Moise, Natcom S.A., Government of Haiti

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  1. Thank God. Finally an opportunity for Haiti to be rid of these fraudulent contracts that only serves the greedy government officials, whose only aim is to rob the country and the population.
    We the people are not happy with the companies involved, restitution of stolen funds must return to the Haitian treasury, the thieves must be dealt with for crimes against the public. They must be treated as criminals, charged and jailed.
    The cycle must end so that a prosperous Haiti can be sustained.

    1. Of course, the US and other Western countries can seize assets like in the case of Russia. But they will do it only when it is in their interests to do so. We all hope for justice but actions are most of the times guided by the pursuit of interests and not justice. So, I would keep my hope of restitution of stolen money to the Haitian state to near zero.

      1. I say idem, Nadim. The case would take 4 to 5 years to conclude. Lawyers will then keep between 33-45% of the indemnity for their effort, if any. The remaining portion of the fund will be used in an attempt to pay back the select few who signed the class action lawsuit and those who may have kept receipts. That is barely $10-50 each. If there are not too many claimants, the remnant would go towards public treasury to pay useless Haitian government officials while the school system there crawls without even chalk and blackboard. The other possibility is that judges are most likely to decide to impose an injunction (cease and desist) with no monetary compensation. Haitians are screwed either way (as usual).

  2. It’s about time that these crooks are brought to justice. Corruption and impunity are the cancerous tumors that are killing Haiti. Let’s hope that the US justice system can help the people of Haiti find some justice that is non existent in their country.

  3. I applaud the plaintiffs for seeking to hold those corporations and the governments of Haiti accountable

  4. Shame on Martelly, he was a terrible president. He let his country down, corrupted the government, and even stole the money of the citizens. It saddens me deeply to see my country in such disarray.

  5. The war between Russia and Ukraine have demonstrated that the U.S./EU can quickly impose punitive sanctions against bad actors. It should not be difficult in the case of Haiti to do the same as most of stolen money from Haiti are into Western countries and banks.

    Will the US help Haiti recover stolen money? I would keep my hope quite low.

  6. Lo único que hemos tenido en Haití son unos gobiernos corrupts, ladrones y mafiosos, que han dejado el pueblo en la miseria, es un país emprobecido por los mismos gobiernos.

  7. Martelly and Privert should be arrested and ordered to restitute the money for fraud against the best interests of the children of Haiti( Department of Education), and thrown to jail.

  8. God was there and God knows everything about them justice for the Haitian people about those three presidents, the kill’s a lot Haitian people and stell There money from them for past 11 years ago the have to pay for all but one of them was kill by the same ganters family name bandi lega the chif is the ex president Michel Martelly the called paren and my country that’s all I have to say justice again for Haiti

  9. I applaud the initiative, but I do not expect to much
    The restitution of the money from the (Clinton & Martelly)…

  10. The diaspora is the lifeblood of Haiti. I think what should be done is that we form several watchdog agencies to oversee the billions of dollars that are being sent to Haiti are all accounted for in retrospect the $1.50 tax for school projects as an example. These organizations would then follow the money. It is that simple folks. Let’s be proactive and no longer be reactive.

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