Haitian authorities are tracing more than $360 million they say deposed president Jean-Claude Duvalier appropriated from the government and transferred out of the country, according to officials and lawyers conducting the search.
That alleged sum is the first specific figure to emerge from an aggressive hunt by the three-month-old National Government Council to track down what they call Duvalier's corrupt gains and return them to Haiti.
Investigators said they arrived at that amount by reviewing ministry ledgers, charges made against bank accounts here in the names of Duvalier and dozens of his associates and overseas wire transfers.
Justice Minister Francois Latortue, who heads the search, said in an interview that he believes as much as $367 million may be frozen in banks in Switzerland.
Latortue estimated Duvalier's overall worth at about $900 million. Other top officials called that figure exaggerated in light of Haiti's impoverished economy and its limited foreign reserves.
According to the council, an examination of Duvalier's seized properties indicated that the government was virtually his only source of income. He apparently owned no income-earning businesses.
In mid-April, Swiss banking officials complied with a Haitian request to freeze accounts under the names of Duvalier, his relatives and his business partners. But the banks are constrained by Swiss law from informing Haiti how much is in each account.
The Swiss penal code requires that Haitian courts compile evidence to show that Duvalier's assets were illegally obtained in order for the banks there to disclose more information about his accounts.
Here, lawyers are scrutinizing five accounts that served Duvalier's palace, four labeled for defense and one for his personal security. A Justice Ministry investigator, who asked that his name not be used, said Duvalier's finance ministers wrote checks to those accounts over the past five years totaling as much as $600,000 a month.
The new finance minister, Leslie Delatour, said he found records of numerous checks written to palace accounts by his predecessor, Frantz Merceron, under the rubric "no explanation." One check was for the equivalent of $90,000.
Bank transfer documents indicate Duvalier sent the funds to his own accounts in the United States and Europe, the Justice Ministry investigator said.
Duvalier fled to France Feb. 7, ending a 28-year rule by his family that left the nation's finances severely depleted and in disarray. He is living on the Riviera with limits on his activities as France seeks another country to accept him.
When he left Haiti, Duvalier said he was leaving with his head held high, but he has not discussed in detail the allegations made against him since then.
The clamor among Haitians, particularly the poor, for the return of Duvalier's fortune began within days after the council took over.
In April the council, headed by Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, appointed a commission to clean up corruption throughout the government and search for evidence to prove that Duvalier bilked his own regime.
The Haitian tax department also filed a criminal complaint for embezzlement and grand larceny against Duvalier in April in a Port-au-Prince court. The judge, Emmanuel Dutreuil, is auditing books and summoning witnesses in closed sessions.
Most of Duvalier's wealth is believed by investigators to be in cash in Swiss banks. Lawyers said that so far the search has turned up no real estate in the United States.
Haiti has hired a New York City law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, to track down Duvalier's holdings abroad. The French and Swiss counsels will help as well.
Investigators here expressed "disappointment" that they have not received more help from the U.S. government and banks. In April, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams pledged to cooperate, but investigators said that inquiries have been steered to normal, time-consuming channels.
Last week the council chastized foreign bank branches in Haiti for refusing to cooperate with the effort. The banks were ordered to allow government inspectors to examine all accounts under a list of 77 names of Duvalier family members and "presumed accomplices."
Justice Ministry investigators said branches here of Citibank and the Bank of Boston were reluctant to disclose information about any accounts without a specific decree exempting them from regular secrecy requirements.
The list, which was published in the local newspapers, is a who's who of Duvalier's intimates, diplomats said. A few are still in Haiti. A court official said some of those named will face arrest in coming days.
The list brought outraged denials from several people. Historian Jean Fouchard, 74, argued indignantly that his name turned up on the list only because he sold his personal library of rare Haitian books to the Duvalier government. A Justice Ministry investigator said the $450,000 Fouchard received appeared to be exorbitant.
Some documents in the probe were found in offices of Duvalier's close friends and in his 13 homes.
"A lot of money never passed through normal accounting channels," said Adrien Rameau, the liaison between the Stroock firm and the Haitian government. "It just went right into his pocket."
The Stroock law firm said it has located, in a Miami marina, a Duvalier power boat it estimates to be worth $100,000 and it has been able to prevent Duvalier from moving or selling it. Government lawyers also expect to recover an 80-foot cruiser valued, according to press accounts, at over $1 million.