By Kevin Gray
MIAMI (Reuters) - A former executive at Haiti's state-owned telecommunications company has been sentenced to a year in prison for accepting bribes from two U.S. companies awarded lucrative long-distance phone contracts in the poor Caribbean country.
Patrick Joseph, the former director general of Haiti Teleco, pleaded guilty to bribery charges in February. Court documents show he is cooperating with U.S. authorities in a high-profile probe involving several former officials who served under former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The sentencing, handed down by a federal judge on Friday, was made without any public notice and published this week because of concern by U.S. officials about Joseph's safety.
It came four months after his father, Venel Joseph, a former president of Haiti's central bank under Aristide, was shot and killed in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, following a media report the younger Joseph was assisting U.S. officials.
As part of his sentencing, Joseph was also ordered to pay $955,596.
The case centers on a multibillion-dollar bribery and money-laundering scheme involving two Florida-based telecommunications companies and ex-Aristide officials being prosecuted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S-linked firms from bribing foreign officials.
Last year, the former president of Florida-based Terra Telecommunications Corp was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the bribery scheme.
Prosecutors said from November 2001 through March 2005 the company paid more than $890,000 to shell companies later used as kickbacks to Haitian government officials.
Terra held contracts with Teleco that allowed the company's customers to place calls to Haiti.
U.S. officials have also charged former executives at a second company, Cinergy Telecommunications Inc.
In March, The Miami Herald, citing legal sources, reported that Aristide was tied to the probe. The Herald identified him as an unnamed government official mentioned in court documents as having received a payment.
A lawyer for Aristide vehemently denied the allegation, which could not be independently confirmed.
A former Roman Catholic priest, Aristide was first elected president in 1991 and served two terms before he was ousted from power by former soldiers in 2004. He returned to Haiti last year after seven years in exile in South Africa.
Haiti Teleco, which was privatized in 2010 and is now controlled by a Vietnamese military-run company Viettel, was once the sole provider of land-line telephone service in Haiti.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)