Speaking of Audubon... He was born April 26 1785, at Les Cayes. In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Birds of America, Haiti issued an extraordinarily beautiful series of stamps, certainly the most beautiful I have ever seen. They ranged in denomination from 5 cents to 5 gourdes. They were quickly withdrawn from circulation, due to a major scandal involving the Duvaliers and, I believe, one or two government ministers. A sensational trial of sort also followed. While I remember the hoopla that accompanied that event, and in particular an amusing drawing from a political cartoonist (don't know whom) that appeared in the NYT, depicting Simone Duvalier standing up to protest her innocence, but with a great number of stamps falling from beneath(!) her dress.
I know there is no better place than the Corbettline to find out quickly the particulars, circumstances, and controversy surrounding this event. Who were the guilty parties, and exactly what did they do wrong? I know that greed must have been at the core of this affair, but did anybody make money out of it?
I have managed to get one each of the 15 stamps that were issued, and sometimes I wonder if their value now equals or surpasses their beauty.
Eight people were arrested on 8 March 1975 and accused of involvement in forging the signature of deputy trade and industry minister Henri Bayard on a document authorising the New York firm of J. and H. Stolow to issue the wondrous Audubon stamp series over which the young Guy Antoine swooned.
The same day, Bayard's boss, trade and industry minister Serge Fourcand, was fired and put under house arrest.
The nine-day jury-less trial, presided over by Judge Rock Raymond, opened on 26 August in PauP and ended on 11 Sept. Among the 13 defendants were Fourcand, Frantz Leroy and (in absentia) Eugene Maximilien. The televised proceedings were the first public airing of corruption under the Duvaliers.
I don't have to hand the trial reports, but Le Matin of 9 April (before the trial) reported that the Haitian "accomplices" were "cheated" out of $23 million in profits from the stamps, receiving only 20% of the sale proceeds.
The trial verdict was delivered on Sept 19. Fourcand, Pierre-Richard Maximilien and Fritz Denis were "liberes faute de preuves." Leroy got 7 years hard labour for forgery and his wife Marlene 2 years. Leroy's brother Guy and Rene Exume got 3 years hard labour for complicity. All four were fined $14,000 each plus $30,000 costs. Five others were acquitted. The sentence on the absent Eugene Maximilien was announced later, on 5 Nov. -- 15 years hard labour, a big fine and seizure of his property.
I think everyone more or less got out of jail soon afterwards or else never went. Maybe Patrick Lemoine, who was in jail at this time, could tell us. Maybe the fines weren't paid either. Fourcand fled to exile in the US with his mother in May 1976. Don't recall what happened to him after that. He was looking for a job with the World Bank etc.
The aim of the trial was probably to bring down Fourcand, who had spent the previous year fighting to get Reynolds Aluminum to pay higher royalties for their bauxite mine at Miragoane, which the company agreed to do on 2 December 74. Fourcand also extracted ecological and social conditions from Reynolds. The final details of these were (ironically?) announced two days after his/ the trial began. Fourcand also took Haiti into the International Bauxite Association (IBA), which was founded around this time at Jamaica's (PM Michael Manley's) initiative. Fourcand led a sort of nationalist current in the regime at the time, which also involved arguing with the US about Haitian sovereignty over the uninhabited Navassa Island, off the southwest peninsula towards Jamaica.
What bribes or coercion were involved in the stamps case I don't know, but it was easy, in the context of pervasive Duvalierist corruption, to pick off anyone when convenient. There'd always be a smoking gun.
Reynolds closed its mine soon afterwards. Around this time, the govt. also cancelled the Sedren copper lease (Canadian mine north of Gonaives) for breach of contract (the firm had shut down and left). There has since been no metal mining in Haiti, just a bit of prospecting and talk of deposits, never actually dug up (yet).
In reference to the Greg Chamberlain recent query about Patrick Lemoine's knowledge of the jailing of those implicated in the stamp scandal, Patrick Lemoine answers the following:
TRANSLATION: "I did not meet the team in charge that was mixed up in this stamp affair, (during the time that I was imprisoned) at Fort Dimanche. I would have certainly mentioned it if they were jailed. I will get more information and will let you know."
See you soon Patrick
Thanks to Paul Christian Namphy for this source on the scandal.
In Elizabeth Abbott's book HAITI: THE DUVALIERS AND THEIR LEGACY, pp. 189-190 of the 1988 hard-back edition. It reads as follows:
Duvalierist Haiti was about prisons and prisoners, about cruelty and torture and execution and violent death. It was about contemptuous disregard for human rights, about cowardice conquering morality and decency. It was also about greed and corruption and the perversion of values, an ongoing marathon for fortune that dominated government and individuals, sapping them of all moral direction and worth. The 1975 Audubon stamp scandal illustrates beautifully to just what lengths Haiti's leaders would go in their frenzied quest for easy money. The scandal was an almost perfect crime, and only the most unexpected of coincidences uncovered and revealed it.
The architects of the stamp scandal were Jean-Claude's sister Nicole, his ambassador to Spain, General Claude Raymond, formerly his chief of staff, Internal Revenue Chief Franck Sterling, Port-au-Prince Airport Security Chief Gabriel Brunet, and Haitian Consul in Miami Eugene "Sonson" Maximilien. Jean-Claude himself was excluded from the scam, and in fact his sister Nicole warned the others that they were dead men should any of them ever reveal her role in the affair.
The scheme was simple. Fake Haitian stamps, exquisite renderings of bird watercolors by native son Jean-Jacques Audubon, were printed in Russia and placed on world philatelist markets. But philatelist societies require authentication of all stamp issues that they promote. The schemers resolved this obstacle by bribing the State Press director to print a single issue of the official government Moniteur announcing the Audubon stamps and validated it with the forged signature of the appropriate Haitian Commerce Ministry official.
The Philatelist Society in Switzerland was satisfied with the apparently genuine Moniteur, endorsed the Audubon stamp issue, and began to advertise it to stamp collectors the world over.
The schemers next bribed Haitian postal officials to authenticate the stamps with a first-day-of-issue postmark. Then they delivered them to a Miami Springs bank, entrepreneur for selling them, and began to rake in small fortunes. Nicole Duvalier's share, $4 million, was the largest.
But an avid Haitian stamp collector who was the Commerce Ministry lawyer responsible for approving all stamp issues received an advertisement for the Audubon stamps. Perplexed and suspicious, he notified the Philatelist Society, which forwarded him a copy of the fake Moniteur. The official whose name had been forged denied any knowledge of the Moniteur and the stamps, and soon a national and then an international scandal erupted.
Jean-Claude Duvalier's advisers convinced him that a public trial was essential to cool scorching international disapproval, and so in Haiti's first live television trial, a phalanx of Duvalierist officials confessed their guilt, accused their fellows, and were sentenced to jail. The international collectors were satisfied, for justice was done, and the publicity resulting from the trial gave the stamps additional value. The principal players in the scheme all escaped unscathed, and Nicole Duvalier's name was never mentioned. Some officials found guilty were innocent, but Jean-Claude rewarded them hansomely for their compliance in agreeing to be scapegoats. They were released early from comfortable jail cells and given money, jobs, and cars. The Audubon stamp scandal proved once again that in Haiti, greed and corruption paid.
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