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Aristide May Be Charged With Corruption by U.S., Powell Says

By Christopher Marquis

The New York Times -- PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said during a visit here on Monday that U.S. judicial authorities were looking into prosecuting the former Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, on corruption charges.

“There are inquiries being made by our judicial authorities in the U.S. to see if there is any evidence of wrongdoing on his part,” Powell said in a joint news conference with the new interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue.

Aristide went into exile in February after widespread violence and looting here. An American indictment against him on drug trafficking or other international charges would further inflame political tensions between those who contend that he was forced into exile by American troops and others, like Powell, who assert that the Americans saved his life.

Aristide, who was flown to the Central African Republic aboard an American-leased plane, has since returned to the region as an official guest of the government of Jamaica. The return of Aristide, a populist former priest, has unsettled Bush administration officials who are trying to establish security and bolster the authority of Latortue’s interim government.

To help maintain order in Haiti, the United States has sent 1,940 troops, the Pentagon says, France has sent more than 800, Canada more than 400 and Chile more than 300. Administration officials have said they expect to cap the American presence at about its present level, and would welcome 2,000 or 3,000 troops from other countries.

Powell, who came for a one-day visit to show the administration’s continuing commitment to Haiti’s recovery, opposed a request by the 15-nation Caribbean Community for the United Nations to investigate the terms of Aristide’s departure from Haiti.

“I don’t think any purpose would be served by such an inquiry,” he said. “We were on the verge of a blood bath and President Aristide found himself in great danger.”