When asked if he had ever used Yéle money for personal benefits, Cultural Rhythms 2010 Artist of the Year Wyclef Jean tearfully replied, "absolutely not." Few doubt that Jean, Fugees star and Yéle Haiti Foundation founder, cares about the Haitian people, but many are raising questions about financial decisions made at the Yéle Haiti Foundation that have steered money towards Jean and his associates including, as Gawker reports, his rumored mistress, Zakiya Khatou-Chevassus.
The Smoking Gun, a Web site that posts legal documents online, reported that Jean and his business associates received $410,000 in payments from Yéle Haiti from 2005 to 2007. According to Yéle Haiti's tax returns, the charity paid out $31,200 in rent to Platinum Sound, a recording studio co-owned by Jean; $100,000 for the "musical performance services of Wyclef Jean at a benefit concert;" and $250,000 to Telemax, S.A., "a for-profit Haiti company in which Jean and Duplessis were said to 'own a controlling interest.'"
The controversy has extended beyond the blogosphere—The Washington Post reported on financial irregularities within Yéle Haiti's organization, quoting a former tax counsel to the Senate Finance Committee, who said, "it seems clear that a significant amount of the money that this charity raises go for costs other than providing benefits to Haitians in need."
Now, Gawker has reported that Yéle Haiti paid Zakiya Khatou-Chevassus, Jean's personal assistant and rumored mistress, $105,000 for "program development" as an independent contractor in 2008. Khatou-Chevassus' compensation represents one third of Yéle Haiti's 2008 budget for management and general expenses and three times the salary of Suzie Sylvain, Yéle Haiti's dedicated program director, according to Gawker.
While Jean has responded to some of the allegations in a YouTube video, many questions remain unanswered. Responding to the controversy surrounding Jean, Harvard Foundation Director S. Allen Counter said in an emailed statement, "Wyclef Jean was honored in December 2009, by the Nobel Concert Committee when he was asked to perform at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert inn Oslo. Two months later, on February 26, 2010, Jean was honored by the venerable NAACP for his humanitarian efforts over the years in his native Haiti... He accepted our invitation and visited Harvard College on February 27, 2010 as the 2010 Cultural Rhythms Artist of the Year, based on his nomination by students for his contributions to the performing arts and his humanitarian work with the people of Haiti over several years, but especially for his recent Haitian relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake."
Cultural Rhythms afternoon co-director Kevin X. Liu ’11 and evening show co-director Miguel Garcia ’12 could not be reached for comment.