Wyclef defends his finances amid presidency bid

NEWLY-MINTED Haitian presidential candidate Wyclef Jean hit back at critics of his own personal finances, including allegations over his use of post-quake charity funds and the revelation he personally owes $2.1 million (€1.6m) in back taxes to the United States.

“We can provide a way to get Haitians out of the mess they’re in. And the way that’s going to happen is education, job creation and investment for Haiti,” Jean said in an interview.

He spoke in a Port-au-Prince hotel room as aides, his wife and daughter, aged 5, looked on.

The Haitian-born, Brooklyn-raised singer is attempting a difficult and potentially dicey transformation, from multimillionaire international recording artist to leader of one of the world’s poorest and most dysfunctional countries – and doing so through a pivotal and difficult election.

Among the best known figures in his native country, Jean’s estimated annual income of up to $18m (€13.5m) is more than 13,000 times more than the average Haitian sees in a year – assuming that person even has a job.

The ex-Fugee frontman endorsed the economic vision promoted by former American president Bill Clinton, the UN special envoy, who is in Haiti this week.

Those plans include creating jobs in the garment export industry, boosting tourism and building the capacity of Haitian farmers to reduce the nation’s chronic dependence on imports.

“Mr Clinton is focusing on the garment industry and all that. I think that’s great. But also agriculture is involved,” Jean said.

“We can work both components at the same time.”

Among other potential investment targets, he mentioned mining, an industry whose ramping-up amid the rising price of gold and other minerals has sparked controversy in the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

Jean’s leap from entertainer to prospective head-of- state is also leading to some interesting transitional moments.

After previously listing his age as 37, as a candidate he suddenly jumped to 40-years-old. On Thursday he traded his urban hip-hop style for a dark suit, better to hide the rubble dust and handprints as he crowd- surfed to open his rally.

The attention his presidential bid attracts also means scrutiny and criticism – turning the campaign into what Jean called a “combat sport”.

He responded to a revelation on the US-based website The Smoking Gun concerning his US taxes.

“First of all, owing $2.1m to the IRS shows you how much money Wyclef Jean makes a year,” he said, pledging to publish an accounting of his finances online and to repay the money he owes.

The singer also fumed when aides told him that actor Sean Penn, who has been managing an earthquake-survivor camp in the Haitian capital since the spring, had accused Jean of not spending enough time in Haiti after the quake, and misappropriating €300,000 of the €6.8m his charity, Yele Haiti, raised.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox