Wyclef Jean offered a teary defense of his charity work with Yele Haiti in a press conference just now, admitting that he made some mistakes but denying that he profited from the charitable donations he directed toward his business interests.
Jean also called for a "mass exodus" from Port-au-Prince, which has become a "morgue":
In 48 hours, the U.S. Army could probably set up 100,000 tents. So I think the first solution is, we need a massive exodus outside of Port-au-Prince, with the help of the Haitian government identifying land where these people can go to. This massive exodus will allow a swifter cleaning process so that we can start getting these demolition trucks in, the logistics in, so we can start to do our work.... We need to migrate at least 2 million people in different parts outside of Port-au-Prince.
The conference was divided between Jean, who was by turns emotional and jocular, and Hugh Locke, a long-time consultant to the United Nations who serves as Yele Haiti's president and seemed designed to serve the dual purpose of clearing the air over financial irregularities and updating the press on the situation in Haiti. Jean himself refused to take any questions on Yele Haiti or its past financial mismanagement, including its failure to file 2005, 2006, or 2007 tax returns until last year and the more than $400,000 it has spent on commercial ventures in which Jean himself owns a controlling interest.
Locke, who attempted to explain some of the questionable expenditures to Gawker last week, acknowledged mistakes in the way Yele Haiti has done business—for instance in accepting the responsibility for paying production costs for a fundraiser Jean played in 2006 in Monte Carlo, which he claimed is why Yele Haiti paid Jean's production company $100,000 for the show—but insisted that the mistakes had all been honest. "We would never do that again in retrospect," he said. He announced the formation of an oversight board to prevent any irregularities in the future.
We've said before that Yele Haiti does and has done good and important work in Haiti in the past, but that it is, in the words of a source familiar with the organization's operations we spoke to, "Not a relief organization" and isn't set up to respond immediately to the urgent needs on the ground. Locke indirectly confirmed that assessment during the press conference, acknowledging that despite raising somewhere on the order of $1 million per day under the pretense of providing emergency relief, Yele Haiti hasn't spent one dollar yet on earthquake relief—though they have accepted free space on airlifts to deliver in-kind donations of supplies. As for what they will spend it on when they start disbursing funds, Jean said one priority is the establishment of a "security force." On the one hand, security is clearly a serious issue that needs to be addressed on the ground. On the other hand, we can't see how it's the best use of charitable dollars for Wyclef Jean to be putting one together when 2,200 U.S. Marines are arriving as we speak.