The head of Rhum Barbancourt takes the helm of the Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on the heels of a fierce battle for control of the family business
For Delphine Nathalie Gardère, the spectacular wins keep rolling in. As do the complaints.
The triumph, perhaps the most significant of which dates back three years, when she gained control of the Rhum Barbancourt company against members of her family.
Delphine Gardère achieved this success following a merciless battle. Her mother, Muriel Lamour Gardère, formally complained of being struck by Delphine during an altercation. The complaint was dismissed due to an « inopportunity to pursue charges. »
Another spectacular triumph took place on March 29, 2023.
On this Wednesday, a portion of the private sector elite made their way through the lush vegetation of La Réserve restaurant in Pétion-Ville to participate in the general assembly of the Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CFHCI).
Following a process filled with intrigue, Delphine Gardère displaced the former leadership to be elected as the president of the board of directors of the chamber.
For Delphine Nathalie Gardère, the spectacular wins keep rolling in. As do the complaints.
Among the eleven members of the new board, at least six work for the Barbancourt company or have had ties with the company, and seven of them were not members of the CFHCI two days prior to the elections, according to a member of the former board.
« This is a coup d’état carried out through fraudulent registrations, » accuses a former member of the Chamber’s Board of Directors. « Delphine Gardère could have been elected without ballot stuffing, » he claims. « But this operation ensures her complete control over the chamber. »
According to individuals directly involved, the move to elect Gardère was backed by Grégory Morissette, the executive director of the Barbancourt Foundation, who was also responsible for the membership process within the former CFHCI board. Morissette, who now sits on the new board of directors led by Delphine Gardère, was himself a candidate.
Among the eleven members of the new board, at least six work for the Barbancourt company or have had ties with the company.
Morissette invited Carel Pedre to join the board. Pedre registered and gave the Barbancourt Foundation representative the authority to vote on his behalf because said media personality was not present at the general assembly.
« When I spoke with Gregory [Morissette], I wanted to know what was going on, » explains the founder of Chokarella, who was elected as a member of the new board and works as an ambassador for Barbancourt rum. « These are people I know, I support what they say, I believe in their vision, » Carel Pedre stated.
« These are people I know, I agree with what they say, I believe in their vision, » maintains Carel Pedre.
A member of the former board reports that just two days prior to the elections, CFHCI, which had around sixty members, suddenly received approximately 70 new integration requests. Furthermore, over fifteen management checks, all received by AyiboPost, bear the same date of March 24, 2023. These checks are sequentially numbered and originate from the same Sogebank branch.
Pedre registered and gave the Barbancourt Foundation representative the authority to vote on his behalf because said media personality was not present at the general assembly.
When contacted by AyiboPost, the attorney for Barbancourt and the new treasurer at CFHCI, Paul Édouard Ternier, explains that the board’s aim is to reach out to businesspeople from the provinces to give the chamber a broader profile. « If that’s what they call ballot stuffing, then we will concede that there was ballot stuffing, » affirmed Ternier.
However, the new board of directors plans to close the loophole that contributed to their election. « We are working on amending the bylaws, » says Attorney Ternier. « If the amendment is approved, a member can only hold one mandate. To be a candidate, the individual must have been a member of the CFHCI for at least one year. »
Last-minute membership does not violate the chamber’s bylaws. However, « it’s unusual to have over 70 new members register 48 hours before elections, along with a significant number of management checks emanating from the same bank and the same branch » explains Gregory Brandt, the outgoing president of the board. « It is a first », he adds.
If that’s what they call ballot stuffing, then we will concede that there was ballot stuffing.
Prior to these elections, Gregory Brandt undertook his own measures to stall the new coalition. Salim Succar, a lawyer under Canadian sanctions, was contacted by Brandt—who had been a council member since 1996—to become a member, according to emails and an interview conducted by AyiboPost. The lawyer indeed registered his firm.
On March 27, 2023, Brandt allegedly proposed an agreement outside of the bylaws to the Delphine Gardère faction, as witnessed by Attorney Ternier. The agreement stated that they would take « five members already registered among those who had agreed to be part of the council with Madame Gardère. These five members were to join three members of the outgoing board to form a new council of eight members. » Additionally, « this new council was to approve new members and organize an election to complete the council, » Ternier continues, noting that he rejected the offer.
Gregory Brandt claims he never made such an offer. « It’s false, » says the businessman. « I simply requested to stop these borderline maneuvers and let the assembly vote normally. Considering the members in the former council who did not want to run in the elections, it is quite possible that [the Gardère faction] would have five or six members from their group. And that’s perfectly fine for diversity. »
Prior to these elections, Gregory Brandt undertook his own measures to stall the new coalition.
Two additional irregularities tarnish the process that led to Delphine Gardère’s election. The membership committee, composed of three members, was supposed to meet and provide recommendations on new members. However, only Gregory Morissette signed the membership report, according to testimonies from a member of the former board and documents reviewed by AyiboPost.
The chamber’s board of directors was also supposed to ratify the membership report. However, according to someone directly aware of the process, this step was not followed.
Gregory Brandt, who acknowledges receiving the membership applications, reveals that he raised these irregularities in his speech at the general assembly. However, the group decided to proceed with the elections.
This decision to continue came to be in a particular context: for the first time in the history of the chamber, the French ambassador, an honorary member of CFHCI, personally attended the elections.
In reality, Ambassador Fabrice Mauries was uncomfortable with the former board of the CFHCI, according to testimonies gathered by AyiboPost.
When the New York Times released its editorial project in May 2022, highlighting how France had unjustly extracted up to $115 billion from Haiti, the French representative in the country inquired about whether the Ariel Henry administration intended to reopen the reparations issue, which had been controversially introduced during the presidency of Jean Bertrand Aristide in the early 2000s. The diplomat sought the chamber’s support in issuing a statement against the American newspaper’s project. However, according to the person who claims to have received the request directly, it was refused.
For the first time in the history of the chamber, the French ambassador, an honorary member of CFHCI, personally attended the elections.
On September 8, 2022, the diplomat requested the chamber issue a statement calling for a military intervention in Haiti. According to a member of the former board, this request was also denied over the phone. Additionally, the former board did not endorse the September 21 agreement which was put forth by Prime Minister Ariel Henry and « eagerly welcomed » by the European Union delegation, of which France is party to.
« Fabrice Mauries holds a formidable weapon, which is the power to grant visas for Europe, » commented a member of the former board who believed that the diplomat’s presence at the general assembly « intimidated people. »
According to four professionals who have directly interacted with him since he assumed office in September 2021, the ambassador has a reputation for being « hot-tempered and moody. » His attitude, described by two individuals as « condescending, » along with France’s current position on the political stage, has led some individuals to refuse to meet with him. « I have declined invitations from [Fabrice Mauries] on three occasions, » said a Haitian expert in international relations to AyiboPost. « From a geopolitical standpoint, Haiti is a province of the United States, and I don’t think France is relevant in the country today. »
Fabrice Mauries holds a formidable weapon, which is the power to grant visas for Europe.
A witness reveals that during a dinner last year, Fabrice Mauries shocked Haitian professionals by stating that they were only interested in « visas. » Assistants present during a conversation at the Apostolic Nunciature in Pétion-Ville were also surprised to hear the diplomat declare that a person who had made remarks he found displeasing on Twitter would « pay » for their impertinent speech. It is unclear if the diplomat was referring to the visa issue.
According to analysts, taking control of a chamber of commerce allows one to take positions on behalf of a large group of businesses, establish contacts with other local and international chambers, and secure a prominent position in major economic and political debates and negotiations in the country.
« [Fabrice Mauries] wanted to take control of the chamber to break its line of independence and subject it to his own desires, » analyzes a member of the former board.
Nevertheless, the French ambassador is undertaking initiatives to defend his country’s economic interests in Haiti.
In 2014, the French group Bolloré invested $40 million in the Varreux terminus, according to a note from the Investment Facilitation Center. Currently, the terminal handles bulk goods but not containers. However, container shipping is considered a lucrative market in a country where 70% of goods are imported, with a significant portion arriving in containers.
For now, only the consortium of operators within the « Caribbean Port Services, » chaired by Philippe Coles, and the Lafito Port owned by the GB Group, a conglomerate founded by wealthy businessman Gilbert Bigio, are authorized to handle containers in Port-au-Prince, where 80% of Haiti’s port activity is concentrated.
According to its director, Guy William, the Lafito Port is operational but is not receiving vessels « at the moment » due to a shipwreck recorded in January 2023. « We are taking the necessary steps to remove the ship and resume operations, » reports William.
The construction of the necessary infrastructure to handle containers at the Varreux Terminal was completed in 2020 after an investment of approximately $40 million by Citibank of the United States and Proparco, a subsidiary of the French Development Agency (AFD), according to statements made to AyiboPost by Richard Lebrun, a member of the board of directors of the company, also known as TVB Port-au-Prince Terminal S.A.
Nevertheless, the French ambassador is undertaking initiatives to defend his country’s economic interests in Haiti.
And so Fabrice Mauries comes to the rescue. A source in the industry revealed to AyiboPost that they had met with the ambassador regarding this issue. With the diplomat they discussed the allocation of authorization by the government to TVB to handle container shipments, which would involve sending customs officials to the institution.
According to Richard Lebrun, Bolloré’s 50% stake in TVB was sold to the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), in March of this year.
As one of the top three global shipping lines, MSC transports its own containers and would want to use its own terminal for unloading them. Richard Lebrun states, « We are positive. We believe the government will do what is necessary. » The entrepreneur adds that the situation represents a « monopoly » that needs to be broken.
Those opposing the idea of TVB handling containers highlight a study commissioned by the government under former Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive. This study discouraged the entry of new players at the time due to market size. Yet, the right to handle containers was subsequently granted to the Lafito Port.
This study discouraged the entry of new players at the time due to market size.
A source familiar with the matter comments on TVB’s requests, saying, « This is Haiti’s problem: there are people who refuse to respect the rules, knowing that they have the capacity, power, and networks to solve their problems outside of the institutional authority of the space in which they have chosen to invest. »
According to this source, « Operators in the public dock who scrupulously follow the rules of the National Port Authority (APN) are frustrated when someone takes it upon themselves to challenge the authority of the APN and resolve the issue at a political level. » They continue, « When someone decides to bypass the established rules of the institutional authority, the APN, and subsequently builds in spite of everything without respecting the injunctions to wait and to present the figures, I cannot agree with that. »
When contacted by AyiboPost, Ambassador Mauries pointed out that « the statutes of the Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce provide that the Ambassador of France to Haiti is the honorary president. »
The diplomat, who congratulated the new « diverse and gender-balanced » team of the chamber in a tweet on March 31, did not provide any further comments on the other facts mentioned in this article.
Delphine Gardère solidified her entry into the country’s economic scene, which is often dominated by sexist men, following the death of her father, Thierry Gardère, in 2017.
His wife, Muriel Lamour Gardère, and their only daughter, Delphine, together inherited a 37.25% stake in the company which was held by the deceased with a registered capital of 275 million gourdes. Two other members of the Gardère family, Jean-Marc and Françoise, each owned 24.75% of the company. Michel Gardère controlled the remaining 13.25%.
An audit conducted by the Mérové-Pierre firm in September 2017 revealed a dire financial situation at Barbancourt, according to information gathered by AyiboPost. The company had fifteen million US dollars in debt with a similar amount in revenue. The entire factory was mortgaged, and the company had a negative cash flow over the past six years.
An audit conducted by the Mérové-Pierre firm in September 2017 revealed a dire financial situation at Barbancourt.
The administrative management of Barbancourt, which sold 80% of its production in Haiti, also posed problems, according to the audit. Among other issues, the audit identified an « overstaffed » company and negative associated accounts due to a confusion between personal and business expenses.
Through interviews with individuals involved in the matter and confidential documents obtained, AyiboPost has been able to document for the first time, Delphine Gardère’s rise to the helm of the 161-year-old company – one of the oldest in Haiti – whose traditional rum production technique is listed in the national register of cultural heritage and is a source of pride for Haiti.
On September 29, 2017, in a relatively calm atmosphere, Delphine Gardère and her mother signed a sharing agreement that made the sole heiress the owner of 37.25% of the Barbancourt rum company.
In November 2017, the issue of Thierry Gardère’s life insurance, awarded to his wife Muriel Lamour, derailed her relationship with her daughter. Delphine Gardère maintained that « certain premiums » had been paid by Barbancourt, and therefore, it was the company that should receive the insurance payout.
Among other issues, the audit identified an « overstaffed » company and negative associated accounts due to a confusion between personal and business expenses.
The dispute escalated into physical conflict on November 23, 2017, according to a confidential document. On that day, Delphine and a cousin visited Muriel Gardère’s home, and this encounter was « recorded. » It is stated that « the tension quickly escalated to a physical altercation. » A justice of the peace was called and he wrote a report. Muriel Gardère complained of having suffered physical and verbal assault from her daughter, according to the confidential document.
Immediately after, the mother contested the sharing agreement signed a few months earlier. This set off a family saga that lasted several years, with lawyers and advisors attempting to mediate between the parties. In March 2020, Delphine Gardère claimed victory with an arbitration ruling! She retained the 37.25% stake in the Barbancourt Rhum company and secured a judgment ordering her mother to pay the symbolic sum of « one U.S. dollar. »
Muriel Gardère’s complaint is classified as « dismissed due to lack of opportunity for prosecution » by Norgaisse B. Gerald, the substitute commissioner of the government, according to a court certificate dated March 22, 2018, from the public prosecutor’s office near the court of first instance in Port-au-Prince, signed by the chief clerk at the time, Wilbert Rhau.
Muriel Gardère complained of having suffered physical and verbal assault from her daughter.
Delphine Gardère’s mother subsequently chose not to escalate the conflict on other fronts, according to a source familiar with her intentions. This decision echoes another family clash dating back to 2016 when Delphine Gardère had produced an « analysis of margins and profitability » of the company at the request of her father, Thierry Gardère. According to a confidential document citing her mother, obtained by AyiboPost, Delphine had described her father’s management of Barbancourt as « abhorrent ». This analysis of the profit margins contributed to the deterioration of the relationship between the daughter and her father, leading to Delphine Gardère’s resignation from the company in the same year.
When contacted by AyiboPost, Delphine Gardère laid out four conditions for accepting an interview. She wanted to « see the first written draft, know who AyiboPost spoke to, and have the right to review and approve the content. » AyiboPost refused these conditions as they contradict the basic principles of journalism and its operating guidelines. The facts reported in this article were also shared with her via email to obtain her comments. She persisted in her refusal. However, her lawyer, Maître Paul Édouard Ternier, contacted AyiboPost. While reiterating his client’s refusal to respond to the facts provided via email, the legal representative made threats of legal action against the media outlet and its journalist were the article to contain allegations of defamation.
In November 2020, Delphine Gardère announced during a press conference the acquisition of 100% of Barbancourt’s capital through a holding company and debt financing.
Alongside this announcement, she and her husband, a French citizen named Martin Paul Marie Molère, initiated renovations at the Barbancourt distillery.
While reiterating his client’s refusal to respond to the facts provided via email, the legal representative made threats of legal action against the media outlet and its journalist were the article to contain allegations of defamation.
Jonathan Dutour was the architect and project manager for the renovations. Two issues led to his parting ways with the Gardère family. The first concerns an unpaid debt of $12,618 for his fees related to the renovation of the distillery. The company refused to pay the amount and claimed that the architect owed them $23,737, according to a court document obtained by AyiboPost.
Exhausted, Jonathan Dutour filed a lawsuit in May to recover the amount owed to him. However, his complaint for « breach of trust, fraud » was dismissed on May 22, 2023, as the presented facts did not constitute a « criminal offense, » according to a document from the case obtained by AyiboPost.
« The lawyer [representing Dutour] had indeed not taken the right course of action in this case, either due to incompetence or a lack of understanding of labor law, » affirms a knowledgeable legal representative who was informed of the case. However, « nothing prevents the plaintiff from reintroducing his claim correctly. »
Exhausted, Jonathan Dutour filed a lawsuit in May to recover the amount owed to him.
The second issue involves an investment of $74,000 made by Dutour’s mother in a real estate company owned by Martin Molère in the United States in January 2021.
According to email exchanges and WhatsApp messages obtained by AyiboPost in this case, Martin Molère had promised Dutour a 47.5% stake in the firm Chaillot 1 LLC, which owns two houses in Detroit, USA.
Research conducted by AyiboPost confirms the registration of two houses in Michigan, USA, under the name of Chaillot 1 LLC. As of May 25, 2023, these properties had a « delinquent » status due to unpaid taxes. It is unclear whether these houses belong to Martin Molère or if he is indeed the owner of Chaillot 1 LLC.
More than two years after the transfer of tens of thousands of dollars, Jonathan Dutour claims that he has not received any ownership documents or proof of his participation in the company. As a result, he is demanding a refund of the initial amount and the « promised interest. »
As of May 25, 2023, these properties had a « delinquent » status due to unpaid taxes.
When the Dutour family pressed Molère in March 2023, the French citizen asked them to contact his lawyer, Maître Paul Édouard Ternier, who is also the treasurer at CFHCI, according to WhatsApp exchanges obtained by AyiboPost.
« There are many lies behind it, » says Dutour. « He had my trust. » But now, « I don’t know what is true [or] what is not true. More than two years later, I still don’t know who owns the company. And when I try to recover my money, he sends me to a lawyer. »
The Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, led by Delphine Gardère, assumes power in a context where the country has been governed for nearly two years by an unelected Prime Minister who holds almost all of the power.
On April 24, 2023, the French Ambassador to Haiti, Fabrice Mauries, met with the new board of directors of CFHCI. The following day, April 25, one day before a meeting on Haiti at the UN Security Council, CFHCI took its first political action by signing a note with other business organizations, inviting the country’s political actors to « resolve their disputes » and to « rally, if they haven’t already, behind the signatories of the political agreement of December 21, 2022, whose ultimate objective is to lead to fair, transparent, and equitable elections. »
It is not clear if this new direction finds approval among the majority of CFHCI members.
« I believe that everyone in the chamber, if not the majority, does not want to get involved in politics, » says Carel Pedre, a member of the new board alongside Delphine Gardère, in an interview with AyiboPost. « Moreover, the media representative emphasizes that the chamber has stayed out of all political negotiations in recent years, and we wish to continue in that way. »
As a business association, the media representative clarifies, « if there are movements within the private sector, we have a word to get in edgewise since we represent members who have a stance. »
When asked about the risk of a lack of democracy within an institution fully controlled by Delphine Gardère, Pedre says, « I am not concerned about that because I have participated in several meetings, and I find that people express themselves quite independently. »
The day after the publication of this article, Delphine Gardère released a note on Twitter where she stated that she is the subject of a media campaign. She wrote, « I note that the attacks began after I unequivocally called on the private sector to assume its share of responsibility in the tragedy our country is experiencing, a responsibility highlighted by the international sanctions that unfortunately do not spare the Haitian business world. »
AyiboPost continues to investigate. If you have any information, you can confidentially contact the editorial team at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article has been updated with a note from Delphine Gardère and a clarification regarding the source of a statement. Updated on June 9, 2023, at 5:14 PM / July 5, 2023.
English translation by Sarah Jean.
© Cover image : Beverage journal
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