NEW YORK -- A judge Wednesday froze two bank accounts of the wife of the exiled Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier allegedly containing hundreds of thousands of dollars looted from the poverty stricken country before he fled.
Robert Zastrow, a lawyer for the new government of Haiti, said in court papers one the accounts, a $184,000-plus trust fund for the wife's two children that matures in just over a week, was 'the most significant asset of defendant Michele Bennett Duvalier yet found in New York.'
The Duvaliers allegedly spirited as much as $400 million out of Haiti, including some $33 million held in accounts in New York, Florida and Switzerland, before they fled into exile in France on Feb. 7.
The new Haitian government has been trying to recover the 'purloined wealth' ever since.
A judge ordered a Citibank safety deposit box believed to have contained 'signficant assets' opened in May, but the Duvaliers cleaned it out a month earlier when the Swiss froze the deposed ruler's accounts.
In all, the checking and time deposit accounts with Irving Trust Co. that currently are at issue could contain as much as $415,095 Mrs. Duvalier 'embezzled from state accounts of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti and various public agencies,' Zastrow said in court papers.
State Supreme Court Justice Stanley Oshau of Manhattan Wednesday ordered that 'pending a hearing ... defendants Michele Bennett Duvalier and Irving Trust Company and all others acting in concert with them are restrained from transferring, removing or permitting the transfer or removal of funds deposited in the accounts.'
The Duvaliers have until Aug. 28 to explain to the judge why the order, which includes any other account they may have in New York, should not be made permanent. Their representatives could not be reached for comment.
Mrs. Duvalier, who married her husband in 1980, had the power until the overthrow of his regime 'to order payment of government funds to herself, family members and friends,' Zastrow said in court papers.
Deposits to her checking account, including $80,000 allegedly transferred from the Haitian National Defense account, date back to September 1980, however, and the Haitian government is not sure how much is left.
The Haitian junta zeroed in on a three-month time-deposit account established on May 16 -- three months after the Duvaliers went into exile - in 'Totten trust' for the wife's two children, Alix and Sacha Pasquet.
A Totten trust can be revoked at any time.
Some $184,900 was deposited at an annual interest rate of 6.37 percent, court papers showed. The account has a maturity date of Aug. 14.
Zastrow charged the money came from government funds transferred to Mrs. Duvalier's account by her interior decorator, Jean Sambour.
The Duvaliers and others were charged in a criminal complaint in Haiti filed on April 17 with embezzling more than $400 million in the public funds from the country.