Former AGD’s Director General Romel Bell speaks at a conference on the assassination of Haitian customs agents at Malpasse, Dominican Republic/Haiti western border, on November 24, 2018. Photo Credit: Ministry of Communication.

Overview:

An investigative judge has issued arrest warrants for the former director general of Haiti’s customs administration, his wife and a Catholic priest on corruption charges. According to the judge, compelling evidence indicates that Romel Bell and his two accomplices were involved in money laundering, financing of terrorism, illicit enrichment and other crimes against public interests.

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Arrest warrants have been issued for Romel Bell, the former head of customs in Haiti, his wife Anna Dorvil Bell and Catholic priest Duckens Augustin, ex-director of the international non-profit Food For The Poor in Cap-Haïtien. The warrants, issued by Investigative Judge Jean Wilner Morin, are in response to corruption allegations. The three individuals are set to face trial on charges including money laundering, fraud, embezzlement, financing terrorism, criminal conspiracy and complicity in money laundering, among others.

In an order made public on May 14, Morin referred the defendants to the criminal court for trial without a jury. The judge asserted that he had found sufficient and consistent evidence to incriminate the other two individuals involved in his investigation into the former director general of Customs's management practices.

The judge’s order and all the preparatory proceeding documents for the case were sent to the Port-au-Prince prosecutor's office. The order particularly mandates that the accused parties “be detained and transported to the remand center if they are not already in custody.”

Presently, Bell and his wife are evading arrest. Their whereabouts, whether within Haiti or abroad, remain unknown.

Go West Now contacted Judge Morin for comments. He simply said he could not share more information about the pending case.

However, his order resulted from a judicial investigation that followed a report produced by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ULCC) in March 2023 regarding Bell’s management practices as director of the General Administration of Customs (AGD).

In December 2022, the ULCC had already ordered the freezing of Bell’s bank accounts and other financial assets for failing to substantiate the source of his asset growth during a hearing conducted by the institution.

Bell made a false declaration of assets, according to ULCC

A ULCC invesgatince report emphasizes that the former director general of customs illicitly enriched himself at the expense of the public treasury. The anti-corruption institution indicated that Bell had concealed significant information about his assets, including various properties such as vehicles, bank accounts, commercial businesses and real estate.

The investigators reported that the former government official failed to declare a radio station named “Génération de la Ronde Fm” and did not disclose that he was the majority shareholder of the limited company “A&L Distribution S.A.,” owning 495 shares worth a total of 99,000 Gourdes (HTG) or $750. The company, legally represented by his wife, possesses three gas stations—two of which were not disclosed in Bell’s asset declaration.

In his disclosure, Bell only mentioned two bank accounts, one in US dollars at UNIBANK and the other in Gourdes at SOGEBANK. However, ULCC investigators discovered ten bank accounts belonging to the Bell couple, their company and a non-profit organization named “Oganizasyon Renmen Timoun Yo” (Love The Children).

Bell served as AGD’s director general from September 2018 to May 2022. According to Haiti’s Ministry of Economy and Finances, his salaries for this period were estimated at over 21 million Gourdes, or $160,000.

However, in his asset declaration to the ULCC, Bell stated that his household annual income—his and his wife’s combined—was 1.008 million Gourdes, or about $7,600. In addition to his salary, he merely disclosed another $66,000 in liquid assets.

The report also states that Bell attempted to mislead the investigative commission about Catholic priest Duckens Augustin, who headed Food For The Poor in the northern city of Cap-Haitien. Bell claimed that Augustin was the main donor to his NGO and had donated $30,000 and food supplies. However, Augustin, in his version of the facts, asserted that he only contributed 150,000 Gourdes, or about $1,200 to the organization over ten years. According to the ULCC, Bell’s NGO, founded in 2017, has not existed for ten years.

Judge Morin asserts in his order that the evidence suggests that the priest leveraged his position within Food For The Poor to facilitate the Bell couple in laundering funds derived from arms trafficking or other illicit activities within Haiti’s customs administration. According to Morin, Augustin’s involvement has made him complicit in the crimes committed by the Bells.

Therefore, Judge Morin ordered the Haitian priest to be tried in criminal court on conspiracy charges.

Indexed by the UN, Bell has already been under US sanctions for corruption and for financing insecurity in Haiti.

Before the final report from Haiti’s anti-corruption unit, Bell was already facing significant sanctions imposed by the U.S. State Department for corruption and for financing activities linked to creating instability.

In December 2022, according to a note published by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, Bell, his wife, former Haitian senator Rony Célestin and four family members were prohibited from obtaining visas to enter the United States. Their assets and interests were also frozen.

The State Department stated that it included Bell on its sanctions list for abuse of his public position by engaging in corrupt activities that undermined the integrity of the Haitian government.

Bell was also mentioned in a report by the UN Security Council group of experts on Haiti. That report accuses Bell, former President Michel Martelly, former Senator Youry Latortue, former Deputy Prophane Victor and businessman Reynold Deep of contributing to the deterioration of the security climate in Haiti.

According to the UN experts’ report, Bell committed and encouraged tax fraud and other financial crimes, including suspicious bank transactions, from 2018 to 2022. The experts asserted that the former official allowed a corrupt system that compromised customs control processes.

“Bell’s actions impacted customs revenue and the institution’s ability to prevent traffics of illicit goods, including weapons and narcotics, into and out of the country,” the investigators wrote. “This undermined the security and stability of Haiti,” they added.

I am Juhakenson Blaise, a journalist based in the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I cover the news that develops in this city and deals with other subjects related to the experience of Haitians for the Haitian Times newspaper. I am also a lover of poetry.

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