Attorney-General Guus Schram: “Underworld structurally intertwined  with St. Maarten’s legitimate society”

POSTED: 09/18/15 11:53 AM

St. Maarten – Judge Maria Paulides has left St. Maarten and works now in Aruba and Curacao. The judge asked for a transfer after a suspect threatened her in court on August 27.Judges from Aruba and curacao will take turns handling criminal cases in St. Maarten. “There will not be more criminal court hearings, but we will deploy more judges,” the President of the /common Court of Justice, Evert-Jan van der Poel said yesterday during the installation of a new judge for St Maarten, Sander Verheijen.

While court sessions for the installation of new judges usually have a festive character, yesterday’s event had a serious undertone. The first serious note was obviously the departure of Judge Paulides. The second one touched upon the security at the courthouse.

With a reference to the fatal shooting of Police Officer Gamali Benjamin on August 5, Van der Poel said, “The regretful recent events in and around the courthouse force us to take measures. We are discussing this with the minister of justice who has pledged his support. Hopefully that support will materialize in the short term. The courthouse must be a safe place for everyone who works here or who comes here for court cases.”

Attorney-General Guus Schram later on addressed the safety issue as well. “On Wednesday, August 5 St. Maarten was shocked by a horrific incident that took place in the middle of the day near the courthouse in a busy Front Street. Officer Gamali Benjamin and a colleague arrived at the scene of a reported armed robbery at a jeweler’s shop. On site, the assailants directly opened fire on them. Shopkeepers, tourists and Members of Parliament experienced mortal fear and ran for their lives while dozens of bullets were flying around. Those present at the courthouse also heard the shots and the screaming. They must have experienced the most dreadful moments.”

Schram related how Benjamin passed away three days after the shooting. “The funeral made a big impression. The island is in shock. Sadness, anger and indignation struggle for priority. Officer Benji as he was nicknamed was well-known in Philipsburg and loved by many. St. Maarten has lost an excellent cop and above all a good person. This horrible drama has painfully demonstrated how crime increasingly affects the society while costing the lives of the best kids of this island.”

The attorney-general said that with the shooting of Benjamin “a critical boundary has been crossed” and that “the Friendly Island has lost its innocence.”

The prosecutor’s office will do everything within its power to have those responsible tried. “But more needs to be done,” Schram said. The population of St. Maarten deserves a safer community with less crime. That is a communal undertaking.”

Schram said that police and justice cannot fight crime on their own. “The community must also raise its voice and demonstrate adamant rejection of crime.” He called on churches, schools, unions, community centers, business people and politicians to contribute to “an important counterforce to crime.” Schram also called on parents and families: “Criminal behavior is not acceptable and it is threatening individuals and the society. Teach your children and lead by example.”

Court President Van der Poel announced that the bench in St. Maarten will be expanded with a fifth judge per January 1. This judge will act as the Judge of Instruction for criminal cases.

The fifth judge will create space for a new division of responsibilities that will also benefit other areas of the law. Van der Poel mentioned in particular fiscal cases. “I hope that the legislation for the introduction of the fiscal administration of justice in two instances will be handled by the parliament as soon as possible and at any case still within this year. The fiscal judge is already there and he is ready to come to St. Maarten to handle fiscal cases.”

Strengthening and expansion of the justice chain on the level of investigative departments also has consequences for the court, Van der Poel pointed out. We have to reckon with that expansion already now by timely hiring judges and legal and administrative support.”

Van der Poel furthermore noted that the independence of the court remains guaranteed, also when the Netherlands makes funds available for hiring additional judges. “Judges are exclusively nominated for appointment at the recommendation of the Common Court and nominated by the ministers of justice of the four countries. Judges from the Netherlands remain on the payroll of this court, also if the funding comes from the Netherlands. The independence of the court is thereby guaranteed and that is how it should be.”

Attorney-general also addressed transnational undermining crime in his address. Schram noted that media reports about the discussions between the Governments of St. Maarten and the Netherlands “did not all form an accurate representation of reality. Not all opinions voices corresponded with the ones from the prosecutor’s office.”

Reluctant to raise its voice about political matters, Schram said that his office nevertheless needs to inform the community of St. Maarten about the way it operates. He referred to the integrity reports about St. Maarten and noted that they all arrive at the same conclusion. “In comparison with international agreements and frameworks concerning integrity promotion and the fight against corruption, the overall integrity infrastructure of St. Maarten falls short.”

“There were instances where politicians, directors, top officials and other influential people deliberately went against government policy for the sake of self-interest, interests of third parties, financial gain or other illegal grounds,” Schram said.

The attorney-general also referred in veiled terms to the Bada Bing bribery case, the Matser tax fraud case and the election fraud case. “There are numerous indications showing that the underworld and the legitimate society in St. Maarten are structurally intertwined.”

Schram notes that undermining criminality is “extraordinarily well-organized and more or less accepted by a large part of the society. It gnaws away at the foundations of our rule of law and democracy.”

Law enforcement is not sufficiently able to fight this type of crime, Schram said. “Where the crime has developed itself further, the chain of law enforcement agencies, including my own organization, is insufficiently organized to respond adequately. We can no longer afford to let this go on.”

Schram made a point of the cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, like the police force and the National Detective Agency. The chief of the Dutch national police, Gerard Bouman told Justice Minister Dennis Richardson in July that he did not trust these organizations, but Schram emphasized that the cooperation with local agencies is still in place. “A constructive collaboration between the judicial and law enforcement agencies is essential for fighting crime successfully. Its relevance is wholeheartedly recognized and emphasized by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.”

At the same time, Schram made clear that so-called embargo investigations into transnational subversive crime require specialized detectives to work in a shielded environment. “It is necessary that such a team can operate independently. Under those circumstances, cooperating with other investigation services is only possible to a certain extent.”

The attorney-general repeated his wish for a multiple chamber for dealing with complex criminal cases. “If only one judge rules in major criminal cases it puts a heavy burden on the individual judge but it also enlarges the risk for intimidation and miscarriages of justice.

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