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Posted Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Ex-Haitian strongman expresses interest in returning to Haiti
By Tom Hays, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK, May 15, 2007 - After trying to stay in the United States for more than a decade, a former Haitian strongman said Tuesday that he is willing to return to the Caribbean nation, where he faces murder and torture charges.

"I have no fear to be deported to Haiti," Emmanuel "Toto" Constant said in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn, where he had been scheduled for sentencing in a mortgage fraud case.

Lawyers for the state attorney general's office and the federal Department of Homeland Security urged Justice Abraham Gerges to sentence Constant in the fraud case to time served, about 10 months of a proposed 1- to-3-year sentence, to speed his deportation.

Gerges postponed the sentencing after the Center for Constitutional Rights claimed that Haiti's justice system was too unstable to prosecute Constant. The civil rights group argued the proposed sentence in the fraud case was too lenient, given Constant's background.

The Haitian government has "clearly demonstrated" it can fairly prosecute Constant, said Ajay Bhatt, an attorney with the Department of Homeland Security.

The judge suggested he might kill the deal, forcing Constant to withdraw a guilty plea and go to trial on charges he defrauded lenders out of more than $1.7 million. If convicted, Constant would face five to 15 years in prison.

After demanding to speak to the court, 50-year-old Constant stood at the defense table and complained that the allegations in Haiti were "purely political" and "should have no bearing on the case here."

Another hearing was set for Monday.

Constant, the 6-foot-4 son of a military officer, emerged as the feared leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's presidency was toppled in 1991.

Human rights groups allege that between 1991 and 1994, FRAPH terrorized and slaughtered slum-dwellers loyal to Aristide. When Aristide returned to power in 1994, Constant fled to the United States.

Despite a 1995 deportation order, Constant was allowed to remain because of instability in Haiti. He kept a low profile, living with relatives in New York until being jailed last year in the mortgage fraud case.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.

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