Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press
A former Haitian prime minister sanctioned by the Canadian government for allegedly helping armed criminal gangs says he did nothing of the sort and points out that Ottawa has provided no evidence to support its accusations.
Earlier this month, Global Affairs Canada accused Laurent Lamothe, the head of Haiti’s government from 2012 to 2014, of engaging in money laundering for Haitian street gangs. It imposed sanctions that prevent Mr. Lamothe from travelling to Canada and allow officials to seize his assets in the country.
Ottawa also sanctioned former Haitian president Michel Martelly and Jean-Henry Céant, another former prime minister.
Mr. Lamothe said Canadian authorities have not contacted him and did no apparent investigation before announcing the sanctions. He said he learned of the accusations from social media.
“This is, to me, scandalous. Not only have I never been involved in anything like that, but I’m a former official who fought gangs in Haiti. I took an aggressive stand for law and order,” he told The Globe and Mail. “You have to investigate first, and then you sanction. Otherwise, it’s arbitrary.”
During his time in office, he said, he cracked down on gangs by equipping the Haitian National Police with tanks and having them target the country’s kidnapping rings.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the sanctions at a Francophonie photo-op in Tunisia with Haiti’s current Foreign Affairs Minister, Jean Victor Geneus.
Ottawa has not released any details of the accusations against Mr. Lamothe or other sanctioned Haitian politicians. The office of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Global Affairs Canada declined to provide any additional information to The Globe and Mail.
Ariel Henry, Haiti’s acting President and Prime Minister, did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Lamothe and Mr. Martelly were previously accused of corruption in connection with the PetroCaribe scandal. That scheme saw billions of dollars in aid from Venezuela stolen across several Haitian governments from 2008 to 2018, largely via sole-source contracts that went to companies that did no work. Mr. Lamothe has denied wrongdoing in that case.
Pierre Espérance, the executive director of the Port-au-Prince-based National Human Rights Defence Network, said Mr. Lamothe certainly took a lot of the blame for the loss of the PetroCaribe money, much of which was pilfered from the government treasury while he was prime minister in Mr. Martelly’s administration.
Mr. Martelly, meanwhile, is also connected to Jimmy (Barbecue) Chérizier, Haiti’s highest-profile gangster, Mr. Espérance said.
He said he had not previously heard anything about Mr. Lamothe himself having ties to organized crime: “I didn’t see or didn’t hear he was involved in gangs.”
Mr. Espérance said political support for the gangs largely began in 2018 amid protests denouncing the government of then-president Jovenel Moïse and its alleged role in the PetroCaribe scandal. In response, government officials started arming gangs to clamp down on the demonstrations. Mr. Céant was prime minister for part of this period.
Now, gangs carry out hundreds of kidnappings a year, engage in regular gun battles in the streets of the capital and blockade supplies of gasoline and other essentials.
“The gangs are everywhere, they have a lot of power,” Mr. Espérance said. “They are better-equipped than the police.”
Mr. Martelly and Mr. Céant did not respond to requests for comment.
Mathias Pierre, a former Haitian cabinet minister, said he doesn’t understand how Canada decides whom to sanction. Ottawa has targeted political figures, he said, but has not taken action against Haitian business leaders who are also accused of abetting organized crime.
“Is it only Black politicians that are responsible for financing and supporting the gangs in Haiti? I doubt it,” said Mr. Pierre, alluding to the fact that much of Haiti’s economic elite is white or mixed-race in a country that is 95-per-cent Black.
Michael Deibert, a Haiti researcher for the Center for International Studies at the University of Lisbon, said it is particularly perplexing that Canada is not taking similar action against members of Mr. Henry’s administration who are believed to have ties to gangs.
“While it is welcome for Canada to move against people it believes are guilty of corruption and violence in Haiti, one thing that was striking to me about Trudeau’s statement is that he made it sitting next to the Foreign Minister of a government that’s accused of many of the same things that Canada is putting sanctions on,” he said.
Mr. Lamothe said he believed Mr. Henry’s government pushed Canada to impose the sanctions in retribution for Mr. Lamothe accusing Mr. Henry of involvement in Mr. Moïse’s assassination. The former president was shot to death in his bedroom last year by a group of commandos.
Mr. Lamothe said he also may have ended up on the sanctions list as a case of “guilt by association” – because of his relationship with Mr. Martelly. In addition to political allies, the two men were also business partners. But Mr. Lamothe said he and Mr. Martelly have had no ties for the past year and a half.
Currently living in the U.S., Mr. Lamothe said he has no assets in Canada, but he is concerned about having his name sullied by a purported connection to organized crime.
“It’s a question of honour. It’s a question of dignity,” he said. “For a serious government like Canada’s to do this so lightly, I’m very surprised.”
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Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press