- Associated Press - Thursday, August 5, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (AP) - Wyclef Jean has stepped down as leader of the embattled aid group he founded as he prepares to formally declare his candidacy for the Haitian presidency.

The singer released a statement that he was resigning the chairmanship of Yele Haiti effective immediately Thursday.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-raised entertainer was headed to his native Haiti and was expected to officially file his election papers Thursday afternoon at the provisional electoral council in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

“I am not stepping down in my commitment to Haiti. On the contrary, regardless of what path I take next, one thing is certain: My focus on helping Haiti turn a new corner will only grow stronger,” Jean said in the statement.


Businessman Derek Q. Johnson will take up the helm of the organization.

Jean helped found Yele Haiti five years ago to raise money and build awareness of the myriad problems in his impoverished homeland. It raised $9 million in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed a government-estimated 300,000 people. Of that, it has spent $1.5 million on food, water, tents, clothes and other products for quake survivors, Jean spokeswoman Cindy Tanenbaum said.

The organization _ named for one of the former Fugee member’s songs _ often worked in partnership with the United Nations and other agencies to implement its programs, lending its name and Jean’s cachet to help raise funds.

But Yele came under criticism when post-quake scrutiny revealed alleged improprieties including that it had paid Jean to perform at fundraising events and bought advertising airtime from a television station he co-owns.

Jean tearfully defended the organization in a news conference weeks after the quake. Yele also hired a new accounting firm after the allegations surfaced.

On Wednesday, The Smoking Gun website posted documents online indicating Jean personally owes $2.1 million in back taxes to the U.S. government.

Tanenbaum declined to comment on the new allegations.

Jean was en route to Haiti and could not immediately be reached. From aboard a private plane he posted on Twitter: “Taking off on my way to Haiti me and my family About to make the biggest decision of our life (sic).”

It was accompanied by what appeared to be a camera-phone photo of him in a shirt and tie, seated in a leather chair and reading a newspaper.

In Port-au-Prince, his supporters loaded group taxis and followed drum-and-horn “ra ra” bands to the provisional electoral council office where Jean was expected to register Thursday afternoon. Young men jostled for free T-shirts bearing the name “Fas a Fas” _ the Creole title of Jean’s nascent youth movement.

“Wyclef for president! Give me a T-shirt!” a bearded 20-something shouted.

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