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More The Big Files: Haiti 2010 candidates for public offices

A SPECIAL SECTION:  Haiti, Since the January 12, 2010 Earthquake
Posted October 22, 2010
Preval protege faces S. Fla financial woes
By Trenton Daniel
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Jude Célestin, President René Préval's hand-picked successor in the Nov. 28 presidential election, has amassed a long list of liens and foreclosure problems on his South Florida homes, public records show.
judge celestin mansion
The grand home of Judge Celestin, the suspected heir apparent in Haiti's presidential election, is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 14. (Joe Reimkus Jr./Miami Herald Staff Photo) The alleged BIG THIEF's images
Célestin and longtime acquaintance Tania Chihimie purchased a home in Weston in 2006 -- the height of the South Florida real estate boom -- for $1.1 million, the records show.

Earlier this year, the house was placed in foreclosure and the lender is seeking $1.06 million. The 5,117 square-foot home, which fronts a canal, has outstanding taxes of $13,961, Broward County records show.

The property was one of three homes that Célestin purchased in South Florida since 2002, and the second to be foreclosed on or threatened with foreclosure.

Célestin's campaign said he was unavailable to discuss his South Florida financial dealings and referred questions to Chihimie.

``Mr. Célestin has had no dealings with the property in question,'' the campaign e-mailed The Miami Herald on Wednesday. ``He does not live in Weston, and is a resident and citizen of Haiti.''

In an e-mail to The Herald, Chihimie said she ``takes full responsibility'' for the Weston house and taxes. She said she obtained the loan through her employer, a bank in Antigua, and cited ``confusion'' over who should pay taxes and insurance on the property -- she or the bank. Monthly loan payments were to be deducted from her fees, she wrote.


The details of Célestin's personal finances have emerged as Haitian voters are deciding among a field of 19 presidential candidates. Which candidate will be best able to help manage billions of foreign aid dollars for earthquake recovery already features prominently in the campaign. The Jan. 12 quake claimed an estimated 300,000 lives and threw 1.5 million people into precarious camps.

Célestin, a 48-year-old bachelor, has been considered Préval's protégé. But the mechanical engineer is seen in Haiti as a political novice.

Despite his South Florida real estate investments, Célestin is one of just a few front-runners who has not stumped in Haitian enclaves in Florida and up the Eastern Seaboard -- an opportunity for expats to learn about candidates and the candidates to fundraise. Political analysts have said it could cost millions to win the presidency.

Célestin's presence looms over the tent cities and battered buildings of Port-au-Prince in ubiquitous green-and-yellow billboards and banners. A slogan in one sign reads: ``100 percent for Haiti.''

On Wednesday, thousands showed up at a town plaza in Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb north of Port-au-Prince, to hear Célestin, who made his first official campaign appearance. `

`They believe in a new generation where we are all part of it,'' he said of the crowd of mostly young supporters. ``Today, I represent Haiti. . . . This is a sign of reconciliation we are asking for. The sign of unity we are asking for.''

A Swiss-educated engineer, Célestin is credited with founding the government's road construction company, the National Center of Equipments, or CNE, before he was tapped for the presidency. Created in 1997, the agency was tasked with clearing rubble in the weeks after the 7.0-magnitude quake as well as with trucking thousands of bodies to a mass grave outside Port-au-Prince.

Copyright 2010 Miami Herald Media Co.

Published Wednesday, October 20, 2010.
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