IDT, Aristide, and the Haiti Democracy Project
A defamation suit is contemplated
July 29, 2008
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Lucy Komisar. Photo courtesy Haiti Liberte
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IDT, Aristide, and the Haiti Democracy Project A defamation suit is contemplated

by Kim Ives

Haiti Liberte - In recent years, Haiti seems to insert itself into every U.S. presidential election. Refugees, military occupations, and sweatshop legislation have all become campaign issues.

This election year, Haiti has entered the fray even before the Republican and Democratic conventions. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined IDT, a New Jersey-based telecommunications company, $1.3 million for not disclosing its 2003 - 2004 long-distance phone contracts with Haiti. During that time, the FCC claims that IDT paid Teleco, the Haitian national phone company, an illegally low rate for long-distance calls that it handled between Haiti and the U.S.

James "Jim" Courter, IDT's CEO and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, was a leading fundraiser for presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. Following the negative publicity generated by the FCC's fine, Courter quit the McCain campaign. "Mr. Courter did not desire to see a personal business matter, wholly unrelated to the senator's presidential bid, to detract from the core issues facing the American people," an IDT spokesman said.

Courter was a New Jersey Republican congressman from 1979 to 1991 and a former Republican gubanatorial candidate for that state. He had raised over $100,000 for McCain and was one of the campaign's 20 national finance co-chairmen. According to Portfolio magazine, the IDT Political Action Committee has given the McCain campaign $84,850 in 2008.

Portfolio magazine published two articles last week on the fine against IDT and Courter's resignation from the McCain campaign. Both were written by Lucy Komisar, a freelance journalist hired by the Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project (HDP) to "investigate" IDT's dealings with Haiti. The Haiti Democracy Project, which calls itself an "independent research group," is bankrolled by Haiti's notoriously reactionary and corrupt Boulos family and run by former U.S. government ambassadors, functionaries, and spooks. The HDP was one of the principal cheerleaders of the February 29, 2004 coup d'état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in which he was kidnapped from his home by U.S. Special Forces soldiers and flown into exile. The HDP specialized then, as it does now, in disseminating disinformation about Aristide and his government.

Komisar had already done a number of HDP-sponsored "exposés" purporting to "prove" Aristide's corruption in his alleged deal with IDT. The company paid Teleco only 8.75 cents per minute for long-distance calls as opposed to 23 cents a minute, an FCC established rate which other U.S. carriers like AT&T were paying. IDT paid its fees to a Turks & Caicos company which Komisar calls "Mount Salem." That company, she alleges, sent 5.75 cents to Teleco and 3 cents to Aristide.

To buttress this charge, Komisar asserts that "Adrian Corr, a Turks & Caicos lawyer who was legal counsel for Aristide at Miller Simons O'Sullivan and who ran Mount Salem, confirmed that Aristide owned the shell." This statement is the lynchpin of Komisar's story.

There are only three problems. One, Adrian Corr was never Aristide's legal counsel. Two, Aristide never owned a shell company named Mount Salem. Three, Corr never "confirmed" to Komisar what she attributes to him.

"I certainly did not tell her that I was Aristide's lawyer," Corr told Haiti Liberté. "That's completely false. I don't know what drug she was smoking that day. And I certainly never told her he owned Mont Salem," the correct name of the company Corr represents. ("She didn't even get that right," Corr commented).

"I have never acted for Aristide nor have I set up any shell companies to siphon money for him, as is alleged in [her] story," Corr concluded.

Corr is now exploring whether to bring a defamation suit against Komisar and Portfolio, which is published by CondéNast. "I've had to refer this to libel lawyers in New York, New Jersey and the United Kingdom as well," Corr said.

Ira Kurzban, Aristide's lawyer, also denounced Komisar's Portfolio articles. "Mr. Corr did not and does represent President Aristide and President Aristide had no interest in or knowledge of any company - "shell" or otherwise" - set up in the Turks and Caicos for any purpose," Kurzban wrote in a letter responding to Komisar's articles. "Mr. Corr never set up Mount Salem, any "shell" company, or any other company for President Aristide."

Kurzban is also contemplating a defamation suit against Komisar and Portfolio.

Noting that "Ms. Komisar was paid by the Haiti Democracy Project" to carry out her IDT investigation and that the HDP "was serving as the political arm in the United States for the coup against President Aristide," Kurzban wrote that "these repeatedly false stories of corruption against President Aristide are part of a continuing disinformation campaign against the President that began when he first took office in 1991."

©2008 Haiti Liberte.

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