Laurent Lamothe (pictured), the former Prime Minister of Haiti and a founder of Global Voice Group (GVG), has been prohibited from entering the USA by an order of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Such orders can be made when the Secretary of State has “credible information of involvement in significant corruption”. The US government press release stated that Lamothe stole money from an aid program that was supposed to use discounted supplies of oil from other countries to make investments designed to rebuild Haiti following the earthquake that struck the country in 2010.
Specifically, Lamothe misappropriated at least $60 million from the Haitian government’s PetroCaribe infrastructure investment and social welfare fund for private gain. Through this corrupt act and his direct involvement in the management of the fund, he exploited his role as a public official and contributed to the current instability in Haiti.
Lamothe was resident in the USA prior to entering Haitian politics and he still maintains a home in Miami. The Miami Herald reports that Blinken knowingly issued his entry ban just a few days after Lamothe had left the USA for a business trip to West Africa, catching the businessman and former politician by surprise. Lamothe issued a statement insisting he was innocent of corruption.
Regular readers of Commsrisk will know that GVG has been routinely mired in controversy surrounding their ability to keep winning hyper-expensive government contracts for the ‘assurance’ of taxes collected from telcos. Such contracts have been awarded to GVG by some of Africa’s poorest countries, typically without any competition. The validity of these contracts may later be disputed, as happened in the legal battle over whether Guinea owes a USD22mn fee for terminating GVG’s services.
The imposition of stealth taxes through high termination rates for international voice calls is nearing an end because of the popularity of VoIP-based services, so GVG is now seeking to win government contracts relating to taxation of mobile money transactions instead. Such contracts are ostensibly awarded by governments because the tax raised will be used to benefit the public. As the Miami Herald points out, the business model of GVG was first prototyped by Lamothe in Haiti, including unreliable promises about how the tax would be spent.
Tech and media savvy, Lamothe also during his tenure introduced a controversial $1.50 “diaspora” tax on wire transfers to Haiti and another tax on international phone calls. The money was supposed to go to pay for schooling. However, government audits found that the money had not gone to the projects the funds were being solicited for.
Lamothe also oversaw a regime where hugely valuable contracts were handed straight to businesses without any attempt to keep costs down or maintain quality by sourcing multiple tenders.
One report detailed $1.7 billion worth of no-bid contracts that were given by the Haitian government between 2008 and 2016. Auditors found that while contracts were signed and money was paid out, many of the projects were never completed.
Lamothe has repeatedly said he cut his ties to GVG following his appointment as Prime Minister of Haiti but the current status of his relationship with GVG cannot be independently established because GVG is run through a network of legal entities in secretive tax havens. The Pandora Papers leak of information about offshore bank accounts revealed that Lamothe was still the owner of a British Virgin Islands company called GVG Holdings Group II Limited long after he took office in Haiti.
The US entry ban follows sanctions imposed on Lamothe by the Canadian government last year. The sanctions follow the devastating breakdown of order in Haiti after the pillaging of the country’s wealth by its governing elite. Let us hope the same kinds of corruption do not spread to other countries where officials think the purpose of government is to enrich themselves at the cost of ordinary people.