FCC probe of Haiti telcom deal hits McCain backer

On July 14 former US Congress member James “Jim” Courter (R-NJ, 1979-1991) resigned from the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in which he was one of 20 national finance co-chairpeople. The resignation followed a July 9 decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fine IDT—the New Jersey telecommunications company of which Courter is CEO—$1.3 million for failing to file a contract for telephone service to Haiti in 2004, during the administration of President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

The fine results from a 2005 lawsuit by IDT’s former manager for the Caribbean, Michael Jewett, who claims he was fired when he balked at negotiating an illegal deal involving IDT, Aristide and Haiti’s state-owned telephone monopoly Telecommunications d’Haiti (Teleco). According to Jewett, IDT’s long-distance payments to Haiti were just 8.75 cents a minute rather than the legal tariff, 23 cents, which mainline US carriers such as AT&T were paying. In exchange for the lower rate, IDT allegedly sent its payments to a shell company, Mont Salem (or Mount Salem) in the Turks & Caicos, which then sent 3 cents to Aristide and the rest to Teleco.

According to New York-based investigative reporter Lucy Komisar, IDT was tightly linked to prominent Republican politicians. The company’s board included former Massachusetts governor William Weld, former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and former US ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick. Courter himself is close to US vice president Dick Cheney, Komisar told Radio Metropole, a Haitian radio station. Except for Courter, the Republican politicians all bailed out after Jewett’s suit was unsealed in July 2005. (Conde Nast Portfolio, July 11, 15; Radio Metropole, July 23)

Aristide supporters, who say the administration of Republican US president George W. Bush removed the Haitian president from office in 2004 because of his leftist stances, deny the claims that IDT was paying a kickback to Aristide. They say Komisar’s reporting is suspect because it is funded by the anti-Aristide Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project (HDP). Turks & Caicos lawyer Adrian Corr—who Komisar says is legal counsel for Aristide at Miller Simons O’Sullivan—and Aristide’s US attorney, Ira Kurzban, both say they are contemplating a defamation suit against Komisar and Portfolio, a monthly business magazines that carried her stories on its website. (Haiti Liberte, July 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 27

See our last post on Haiti.