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Le Proces des Timbres: L'affaire Audubon

  • Monday, Dec 19 2011
  • Written by  Elizabeth Abbott
  • font size decrease font size increase font size

Paperback, 296 pages

The scheme was simple. In Haiti in 1975 greedy and corrupt members of the Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier regime faked exquisite renderings of bird watercolors by native son Jean-Jacques Audubon and put them on the world market. A government lawyer and stamp collector reported the suspicious stamps. The Duvalier government had to stage a public trial. Several government officials were sent to jail and the international collectors were satisfied. The trial was an important demonstration of courageous lawyers and judges. However the principal crooks were not revealed and the officials who were jailed were compensated well and were released early from their comfortable jails. Thus it was proven again in Duvalierist Haiti, which was about prisons, cruelty, and violence, that crime paid. 26 years later, Jean Sénat Fleury, former Haitian judge and legal scholar decided to make this trial available to the new generations of students of justice and those interested in Haitian history.

Some comments about the Audubon Stamp Scandal
 
The aim of the trial was probably to bring down Serge Fourcand, who has spent the previous year fighting to get Reynolds Aluminium to pay higher royalties for their bauxite mine at Miragoâne, which the company agreed to do on December 2, 1974. Fourcand also extracted ecological and social conditions from Reynolds. The final details of these were ironically announced two days after the trial began. Fourcand also took Haiti into the International Bauxite Association (IBA), which was founded around this time at Jamaica's (PM Michael Manley's) initiative. Fourcand led a sort of nationalist current in the regime at the time, which also involved arguing with the U.S. about Haitian sovereignty over the uninhabited Navassa Island, off the southwest peninsula towards Jamaica.

What brides or coercion were involved in the stamps case I don't know, but it was easy, in the context of pervasive Duvalierist corruption, to pick off anyone when convenient. There'd always be a smoking gun.
                                                                                     Greg Chambelain

In Elizabeth Abbott's book Haiti: The Duvaliers and their Legacy, pp. 189-190 of the 1988 hard-back edition. It reads as follows:

Duvalierist Haiti was about prisons and prisoners, about cruelty and torture and execution and violent death. It was about contemptuous disregard for human rights, about cowardice conquering morality and decency. It was also about greed and corruption and the perversion of values, an ongoing marathon for fortune that dominated government and individuals, sapping them of all moral direction and worth. The 1975 Audubon stamp scandal illustrates beautifully to just what lengths Haiti's leaders would go in their frenzied quest for easy money. The scandal was an almost perfect crime, and only the most unexpected of coincidences uncovered and revealed it.

The architects of the stamp scandal were Jean-Claude's sister Nicole,  his ambassador to Spain, General Claude Raymond, formerly his chief of staff, Internal Revenue Chief Franck Sterling, Port-au-Prince Airport Security Chief Gabriel Brunet, and  Haitian Consul in Miami Eugene "Sonson" Maximilien. Jean-Claude himself was excluded from the scam, and in fact his sister Nicole warned the others that they were dead men should any of them ever reveal her role in the affair.

The scheme was simple. Fake Haitian stamps, exquisite renderings of bird watercolors by native son Jean-Jacques Audubon, were printed in Russia and placed on world philatelist markets. But philatelist societies require authentication of all stamp issues that they promote. The schemers resolved this obstacle by bribing the State Press director to print a single issue of the official government Moniteur announcing the Audubon stamps and validated it with the forged signature of the appropriate Haitian Commerce Ministry official.

The philatelist Society in Switzerland was satisfied with the apparently genuine Moniteur, endorsed the Audubon stamp issue, and began to advertise it to stamp collectors the world over.

The schemers next bribed Haitian postal officials to authenticate the stamps with a first-day-of-issue postmark. Then they delivered them to a Miami Springs bank, entrepreneur for selling them, and began to rake in small fortunes. Nicole Duvalier's share, $ 4 million, was the largest.

But an avid Haitian stamp collector who was the Commerce Ministry lawyer responsible for approving all stamps issues received an advertisement for the Audubon stamps. Perplexed and suspicious, he notified the Philatelist Society, which forwarded him a copy of the fake Moniteur. The official whose name had been forged denied any knowledge of the Moniteur and the stamps, and soon a national and then an international scandal erupted.

Jean-Claude Duvalier's advisers convinced him that a public trial was essential to cool scorching international disapproval, and so in Haiti's first live television trial, a phalanx of Duvalierist officials confessed their guilt, accused their follows, and were sentenced to jail. The international collectors were satisfied, for justice was done, and the publicity resulting from the trial gave the stamps additional value. The principal players in the scheme all escaped unscathed, and Nicole Duvalier's name was never mentioned. Some officials found guilty were innocent, but Jean-Claude rewarded them handsomely for their compliance in agreeing to the scapegoats. They were released early from comfortable jail cells and given money, jobs, and cars. The Audubon stamp scandal proved once again that in Haiti, greed and corruption paid.

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Le Procès des Timbres: L'affaire Audubon

By Jean Sénat Fleury The scheme was simple. In Haiti in 1975 greedy and corrupt members of the Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier regime faked exquisite renderings of bird watercolors by native son Jean-Jacques Audubon and put them on the world market...  Buy it now!

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