Dominican Republic probing multimillion-dollar Haiti contracts scandal

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, Wednesday April 04, 2012 – Dominican authorities are investigating corruption allegations against an influential senator whose companies won millions of dollars in no-bid construction contracts in post-earthquake Haiti.

Attorney-General Radhames Jiminez said in a news conference that the government’s anti-corruption department will be looking into alleged irregularities involving the companies of Senator Felix Bautista, a close ally of President Leonel Fernandez.

Bautista is accused of wielding his influence to win contracts for construction projects in Haiti totalling more than $200million, even though they did not meet the country’s procurement rules.

The investigation comes two days after Dominican journalist Nuria Piera aired a story in which she claimed to have combed through bank statements and property records belonging to Bautista.

Piera says she found that one of the companies owned by Bautista, HADOM Construction, was awarded a $350million contract for reconstruction work in Haiti following the earthquake, and allegedly gave more than $2.5million to Haiti’s President Michel Martelly both before and after he won the presidency last year.

The Dominican contracts came to light several weeks ago after outgoing Prime Minister Garry Conille announced that he was conducting an audit of $500million in construction contracts signed in the months after the quake by his predecessor Jean-Max Bellerive.

Before officially releasing the audit, Conille suddenly resigned last month after only four months in office.  A few weeks later, a leaked version of the “preliminary audit” was published in the Haitian newspaper Le Matin.

The document showed that some of the contracts were given to firms that didn’t meet certain procurement requirements, including HADOM.  It received a $33.7million contract to rebuild parliament and did not meet the criteria of five years experience required by law.

Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister at the time of the earthquake and now an advisor to his cousin Martelly, said in a public statement that he was the victim of a smear campaign and that the government needed to respond quickly to the disaster.

“It’s true that Felix Bautista presented us with several Dominican companies because we asked Leonel  Fernandez to help us find companies willing to work right away – even without advance payment.  [I] did not know he was owner of shares in those different companies,” Bellerive said.

Bautista has denied any wrongdoing.  In interviews with Dominican newspapers, he said the contracts were awarded legally.

In a press statement, the Martelly government rejected the “fanciful accusations brought unjustly” against the leader.

“This media lynching of the President of the Republic is part of a larger campaign to poison public opinion to sully the image of President Martelly and undermine [his] integrity,” the statement said.

Martelly recently met with Fernandez during an official visit in which he received a cross under the Order of Merit of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella, the highest honour for a foreign head of state.  Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)