Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, has long been plagued by endemic corruption. Apparently, so is its embassy in Washington.
On May 3, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry fired the country’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, after investigations by both the US and Haitian governments uncovered a kickback scheme involving the illegal issuance of passports for Haitians living abroad, in exchange for exorbitant bribes.
The scheme implicated not only Edmond himself, but also his sister, Betyna Edmond, and several embassy officials, according to a May 5 article in the Miami Herald.
The Herald obtained a 40-page report issued by Haiti’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which concluded that the embassy’s Passport Production Unit resembled “an individual business whose functioning is largely linked to the influence of position, cronyism and more than anything, the power of money, thus opening the way to influence peddling, blackmail and essentially to corruption schemes, probably well exploited” at different levels of the Haitian Embassy.
According to the Herald, the scandal first came to light when Edmond’s former boss, Claude Joseph, was in charge of the Foreign Ministry. “In June of 2021, US Customs officials seized several packages with a total of 400 passport applications from Haitian nationals living in Chile and cash totaling $50,000. The FedEx packages were addressed to the personal residence of Gélorme Juste, who was Joseph’s cousin and who was serving at the time as head of the consular section of the Haitian embassy in Washington.”
One of the packages was seized by the US Customs and Border Protection, it said, “because an attempt was made to smuggle or clandestinely import the monetary instruments into the commerce of the United States, by falsely declaring the description and/or value on the shipper’s manifest.”
In a statement emailed to the Washington Diplomat, Edmond called the US and Haitian government claims “farfetched allegations” and said he is fighting to restore his honor and his 32-year diplomatic career.
“For my part, I affirm having not even the slightest link with this affair,” Edmond said, explaining that “the interministerial commission could not find any evidence corroborating the allegations of the report produced by the Foreign Affairs Minister under the leadership of former minister Claude Joseph.” He added: “The obligation of discretion to which I am bound as a senior civil servant enjoins me not to further discuss this matter.”
But Raymond Alcide Joseph, who served as ambassador from 2004 to 2010, knows the story inside-out. He even devoted several pages to the Haitian Embassy’s long history of corruption in his 2015 autobiography, “For Whom the Dogs Spy.”
Now 91 and living in a modest apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife Lola Poisson, Joseph told the Washington Diplomat that when he arrived as ambassador in March 2004, the embassy was transferring only $60,000 a month to Haiti’s Treasury. Joseph quickly boosted that to around $250,000 a month.
“Since making money—not managing the affairs of state—is the main concern of those who assume power, they use the passport as a cash cow,” said Joseph, who places the current mess squarely on the ministries of interior and foreign affairs, both of which are part of Henry’s portfolio as prime minister of Haiti.
He summed it up by quoting the French proverb, “Le poisson pourrit par la tête” [the fish begins to rot at the head].
In a recent interview, Joseph told us that following the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010, he led fundraising efforts at the Haitian Embassy at 2311 Massachusetts Ave. NW. I n the weeks and months after the quake, the embassy’s reception area quickly filled up with clothing and other donations left by well-meaning people.
“Here I am, personally raising funds in Washington, and people around me thought I was going to share some of the funds with them,” he recalled. “That’s when I realized everybody was corrupt,” he said. “Corruption was everywhere, in the embassy and in the consulate.”
In fact, by the time Michel Joseph Martelly assumed Haiti’s presidency in 2011—with the backing of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—the embassy’s passport unit had resumed its questionable practices, reaching the current crisis.
“Meanwhile, the employees of the passport unit, who bring in the millions, were unpaid for six months,” Joseph told us. “I made some noise about it recently, and they got paid for three months. Now they’re back at four months without pay. It’s criminal.”
Edmond’s firing puts an end to what otherwise may have been an illustrious career in diplomacy that began in 1990. Within three years, the Oxford-educated diplomat was promoted to first secretary while serving as minister of tourism and creative industries. He later facilitated Haiti’s entry into the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and from 2001 to 2003 was a counselor at the Haitian Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica.
From 2003 to 2011, Edmond was chargé d’affaires at the Haitian Embassy in Panama, with responsibility for Central America and Colombia. From 2012 to 2016, he represented Haiti before the Organization of American States, headed Haiti’s embassy in London (2016-18) and was named foreign minister in September 2018—a position he held until his appointment to Washington in 2020 by President Jovenel Moïse, only seven months before Moïse’s July 2021 assassination by Colombian mercenaries.
Dozens of people have been arrested in connection with the murder, but few details, or even motives, are known at this time.
Edmond’s replacement is Louis Harold Joseph, who will be chargé d’affaires at Haitian Embassy in Washington, where he began his diplomatic career in 1982 currently assistant commercial attaché.
Raymond Joseph predicted that this latest scandal won’t have the slightest impact on US-Haiti relations, which are currently focused on the rampant gang violence that has terrorized average Haitians and paralyzed the Haitian government.
“The sole boss of Haiti—and I mean it, because no other democratic institution exists—is Dr. Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who depends totally on Washington to keep overseeing the overall mess in Haiti.”
At any rate, if an independent justice system existed in Haiti, Edmond “would be tried and made to pay for his crimes,” Joseph said, since as an ex-ambassador Edmond no longer enjoys diplomatic immunity.
“Who knows,” speculated the elder statesman. “If the US finds out that his actions of providing passports to undesirable foreign individuals may have harmed the United States, we might even see this country asking for extradition and then he would be tried in a US court.”