PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier slipped out the back of his hotel Thursday and was driven to a private home on a mountain above Haiti's capital, in the latest unexpected twist in his surprise return to the country that kicked him out nearly 25 years ago.
Duvalier, who faces a court investigation in Haiti, had a flight booked to leave the country in the morning along with his entourage. But as the day wore on it became clear the ex-"president for life," who is 59 and showing signs of ailing health, wasn't going anywhere.
The reasons for his prolonged stay remain as murky as his motivation for coming back in the first place, but advisers and confidants cite two primary motivations: the lack of a valid passport and the ongoing court investigation against him on allegations of corruption and human-rights abuses from his reign.
As his scheduled flight took off he was still in the international-style hotel in Petionville, where he had stayed in a standard room. After a group lunch on its covered patio restaurant his girlfriend, Veronique Roy, walked to a waiting car at the hotel's main door to draw off most of the press while he was shepherded to a separate car behind the compound on a concrete loading dock.
He ended up in a private home.
The court cases followed too, with investigating Judge Carves Jean and Haiti's chief prosecutor, Auguste Aristidas, among his first visitors there, Radio Metropole reported.
Defense attorney Reynold Georges told reporters earlier in the day that he couldn't speculate how long the ex-dictator would stay in Haiti, but that it would take at least two weeks to resolve the legal cases filed against him.
"He will have to answer that question himself but for now, we're here," Georges said.
Asked if Duvalier had been invited to Haiti by anyone in the government, the attorney said not to his knowledge. "It's his country. He doesn't need an invitation."
Duvalier assumed power in 1971 at age 19 on the death of his notorious father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. They presided over one of the darkest chapters in Haitian history, a period when a secret police force known as the Tonton Macoute tortured and killed opponents.
The private militia of sunglass-wearing thugs enforced the dynasty's absolute power and lived off extortion. On Thursday, men identifying themselves as former Macoutes milled outside the lobby as other Duvalier associates shuttled back and forth from his third-floor room. Roy greeted the former militia men with hugs.
Those who suffered under the regime grimaced at his continued presence in the country, even as a flawed court system struggles to figure out how to deal with him. Duvalier is alleged to have taken hundreds of millions of dollars with him when he fled, after having ordered the torture and killing of thousands as president.
"You imagine being closed in day in and day out," said Robert Duval, founder of an athletic aid group detained for 17 months in the notorious Fort Dimanche prison. "Every two, three days you got three people dead."
Duvalier was brought by police Tuesday to a courthouse housed in a former headquarters of the U.S. Agency for International Development where he was deposed by a lower judge before being passed up the chain to Carves, an investigative magistrate who now has three months to decide if he should be put on trial.
The first allegations concerned corruption and criminal association. More lawsuits were filed Wednesday about human-, civil- and political-rights abuses including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, forced exile and destruction of private property.
But some expressed doubt that the system could ever convict.
"I am for true justice. I am convinced there is no judicial mechanism that can give a real justice. That's the dilemma," said Liliane Pierre-Paul, a Haitian journalist forced into exile by the regime.
Associated Press writer Ben Fox and AP television journalist Julia Galiano-Rios in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report