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Price-fixing lawsuit against Haiti’s ex-presidents, money transfer and phone companies revived

NEW YORK – A 2018 lawsuit alleging that former Haitian President Michel Martelly and his successors conspired to fix the price of phone calls and money transfers to fund a non-existent education program has been revived. On March 31, a U.S. federal court said in a 29-page ruling that the case may move forward.

The original lawsuit, filed in 2018, alleges that Martelly announced a subsidy program back in 2010 called PSUGO to fund free education for children in Haiti. The program was to be funded by a $1.50 tax on money transfers and a five-cent charge on international phone calls. 

The lawsuit rests on the antitrust claim that Haitian government officials and corporations conspired to fix prices. But plaintiffs also claimed that no such education program was ever created or implemented.

Attorney Rodney Austin, who represents the plaintiffs, told The Haitian Times in 2019 that the subsidy “is not happening” and said he was trying to figure out where the money went. 

On Thursday, a three-judge panel reversed a previous 2021 district court decision, which claimed a U.S. court could not rule on the “propriety” of a foreign sovereign’s actions. The March 31 ruling held that plaintiffs could still make an antitrust claim under U.S. law, reversing the previous dismissal under the “act of state doctrine.” 

The panel of judges instructed the lower court to review 15 state-law claims that were previously filed in pursuing the case, known as Celestin v. Caribbean Air Mail. 

“The act of state doctrine does not bar the state law claims for the same reason that it does not bar the antitrust claims: the Haitian taxes and fees alleged to have injured the Plaintiffs in the United States can be assumed to be valid under Haitian law,” wrote Jon Newman, a U.S. Circuit Court Judge. 

Aside from Martelly, defendants named include former presidents Jocelerme Privert and the deceased Jovenel Moise, along with the corporations Western Union, Caribbean Air Mail, or CAM, Digicel Haiti and USA. Plaintiffs are represented by Austin of Fresh Meadows, New York, and Marcel Denis of the Brooklyn-based Denis Law Group, according to the ruling. 

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