PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haitian prosecutors have slapped a slew of corruption charges on Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, under 48 hours after the ex-dictator's unexpected return to his homeland.
Duvalier stands accused of corruption, theft and misappropriation of funds related to the siphoning off of hundreds of millions of dollars during a 1971-1986 rule allegedly marked by widespread human rights abuses.
"Yes he has been charged. But I don't understand it," his lawyer Gervais Charles told AFP Tuesday.
In a day of high political and legal drama in the rubble-strewn capital Port-au-Prince, Duvalier was first questioned by the nation's chief prosecutor at the luxury hotel where he has been holed up since returning on Sunday.
After more than an hour, the former strongman who once ruled Haiti with an iron fist emerged under police escort. He was not wearing handcuffs and allowed an occasional smile to a small group of chanting supporters.
The convoy of armored vehicles bristling with swat police made its way to the main court house downtown, twisting and turning through the streets of the capital as journalists and bystanders on motorbikes tried to keep pace.
"He is free, but has to remain at the disposition of justices," a lawyer said as Duvalier left the building four hours later, still not in handcuffs and accompanied by his companion Veronique Roy.
Asked how he was feeling as he got into a car to drive away after four hours of questioning, Duvalier simply answered "fine."
An investigating judge must now decide if there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the case.
Duvalier's return marked the first time he had set foot on home soil since being ousted 25 years ago in a popular uprising.
It came against a backdrop of great uncertainty in Haiti following disputed presidential elections that have created a political vacuum and spawned riots between rival factions that left five dead.
Haiti's election commission indicated on Tuesday it could not just revise presidential results on the basis of advice by international monitors but must follow legal procedures.
The second round of voting was supposed to be held January 16, but has been postponed indefinitely because of a political crisis now complicated by the unexpected return of Duvalier.
One year after a catastrophic earthquake killed a quarter of a million people, much of the capital Port-au-Prince remains in ruins and a cholera epidemic has claimed nearly 4,000 lives.
It is not exactly clear how the re-emergence of Duvalier shakes up the political landscape. Duvalier has not explained his motivation or endorsed any candidate in the race to succeed Preval.
A French diplomatic source in Port-au-Prince said Duvalier had booked a return ticket to France dated January 20.
"Baby Doc" came to power in 1971 when he was just 19. Succeeding his repressive father Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier at his death, the precocious young leader with a playboy lifestyle was not expected to last long.
But like his father, he imposed authoritarian rule on the impoverished Caribbean nation -- barring opposition, clamping down on dissidents, rubber-stamping his own laws and pocketing government revenue.
The dreaded Tonton Macoutes, a secret police force loyal to the Duvalier family, has been accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing up to 30,000 suspected opponents during the 1960s and 70s.
Focus: Haiti likely to recover Duvalier's Swiss millions
Duvalier and his followers were accused of plundering hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds during their 15-year reign until "Baby Doc" was ousted in 1986 and left in disgrace aboard a US Air Force plane.
Haitian journalist Michele Montas, the former spokeswoman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon, confirmed she was planning to file a lawsuit against Duvalier.
She was forced into exile for several years during Duvalier's rule, and her husband, Jean Dominique, was assassinated in 2000 after repeated criticism of the party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who became president in 2001.
"We wanted to file a collective suit, but finally on the advice of our lawyers we are going to file three or four individual suits as soon as possible," she said.
Duvalier has never faced prosecution abroad.
Four alleged Haitian torture victims filed a case with a French prosecutor in September 1999, charging "Baby Doc" with crimes against humanity but the case was dismissed because France's 1994 law on crimes against humanity was not retroactive.
Duvalier has been fighting to hold on to some $5.7 million of allegedly embezzled funds held by an opaque Liechtenstein-based foundation in Switzerland ever since Swiss authorities froze them after his ouster as leader of the poorest country in the Americas.