Yes, Sir, This Wyclef Jean Is A True Man Of The Haitian People

In announcing Saturday that he would seek to allow dual citizenship for Haitians, Wyclef Jean noted that émigrés “are the ones who keep this country alive” through billions sent in remittances to impoverished family members.

According to an Inter-American Development Bank survey cited by the Associated Press, one-third of Haitians receive remittances, and “nearly 75 percent of the money is spent on food, housing, utilities and clothing.” In an interview with the AP, Jean remarked that remittances were so widespread that, over a five-year period, they would equal the amount of money that has been pledged for the earthquake-devastated country’s reconstruction.

While the remittance system is an unfortunate byproduct of a dysfunctional economy, the opportunistic Jean once viewed it as a moneymaking opportunity. Court records show that the musician/presidential candidate and two partners agreed in 2006 to purchase a controlling share in a money transfer business that served “the Haitian community in Haiti, the U.S. and abroad.” The firm, Boby Express, generated its income by charging customers a percentage of the amount they were transferring to Haiti.

Haitians have long complained about steep remittance fees, which can exceed 10 percent depending on the amount being sent. Voters might be interested to learn that Jean, a presidential aspirant, once sought to be the middleman in these transfers, skimming money into his own pocket.

The purchase agreement between Boby Express and Jean’s Sak Passe Partners, LLC called for the musician to serve as the transfer firm’s spokesman. Additionally, Jean and his cousin Jerry Duplessis (a Sak Passe partner) were to “personally participate in the promotion and branding of the Company by way of printed, audio and visual advertisements” and personal appearances. Jean, Duplessis, and Seth Kanegis, Sak Passe’s third partner, were each appointed to Boby’s board of directors in August 2006.

However, almost immediately, disputes arose between Jean & Co. and the remittance firm’s founder, Marie Yolette Rhau. Soon after Sak Passe invested about $860,000, the Boby Express deal collapsed into litigation.

Court filings show that, before lawsuits were filed, the Jean partnership unsuccessfully sought to salvage the deal by bringing in Comcel, a Haitian telephone company, as a third-party investor. The company, which reportedly has been a corporate sponsor of the Haiti-based division of Jean’s charitable foundation, was a “perfect match,” because of the “limitless cross-over potential between the wire transmittal business and the phone card and cell phone industry.”

After two years of Florida Circuit Court litigation, Sak Passe and Rhau settled in late-2008, with Rhau agreeing to repay the investment funds.