Skepticism widens over Wyclef Jean’s presidential run

Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean officially launched his bid to run Haiti only a day ago, but he’s already facing criticism from a fellow celebrity-activist – and he’s facing a onetime bandmate’s embarrassing endorsement of Jean’s chief rival, too.

Actor Sean Penn, whose charity has been running a Haitian survivor camp of 50,000 since the killer earthquake, said on CNN that he’s “suspicious” of Jean’s bid.

“This is somebody who’s going to receive an enormous amount of support from the United States, and I have to say I’m very suspicious of it, simply because he, as an ambassador at large, has been virtually silent. For those of us in Haiti, he has been a nonpresence,” he said.

Penn also brought up allegations that Jean mishandled $400,000 of the $9 million he raised for his charity, Yele Haiti, after the quake, and mentioned the “vulgar entourage of vehicles” in which Jean traveled in the country.

Jean stepped down from the foundation before announcing his run in a glitch-filled interview Thursday night with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. He told CNN the youth of Haiti want him to run.

“I just want Sean Penn to fully understand that I am a Haitian, born in Haiti, and I’ve been coming to my country ever since a child,” Jean told the Associated Press in an interview.

According to the AP story, Jean continued: “He might just want to pick up the phone and meet, so he fully understands the man.”

The Smoking Gun uncovered this week that Jean owes over $2 million in back taxes to the IRS. (The Upshot has a guide to the many financial scandals dogging Jean.)

Meanwhile, Jean’s own former bandmate Pras, who was in the Fugees with Jean and Lauryn Hill, endorsed Jean’s opponent in a stone-cold statement. “I endorse Michel Martell as the next president of Haiti because he is the most competent candidate for the job,” Pras said.

But before voters weigh in on questions of relative competence, Haiti’s election board will have to decide whether Jean qualifies for the job. To run for president, you must have lived in Haiti for the five consecutive years before the election and never have held foreign citizenship. Jean moved to the United States when he was 9, and the AP says that by most accounts he has not fulfilled the residency requirement.

Jean’s wealth – regardless of any financial improprieties – could either be a boon for his campaign in the poverty-stricken country or a reminder of how different, and possibly out of touch, he is compared with the average Haitian. “His estimated annual income of up to $18 million is more than 13,000 times more than the average Haitian sees in a year – assuming that person even has a job,” the Associated Press points out.

The election is scheduled for November.

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