Chief Prosecutor Ton Maan: “The word class justice has hurt us a lot”POSTED: 04/23/15 6:49 PM
Chief Prosecutor Ton Maan: “We have indicated to the Minister of Justice that the prostitution policy violates international treaties.” Photo Today / Hilbert Haar
St. Maarten – “The word class justice has hurt us a lot and the effect is that you are almost going to have reverse class justice whereby you are inclined to prosecute dignitaries sooner than criminal citizens, if only to prove that you are not practicing class justice. That is not good either,” Chief Prosecutor Ton Maan says. Today spoke yesterday with Maan about his challenges, almost four months after he started his tenure as the successor of interim Chief Prosecutor Rick Noordhoek.
When the Court in First Instance declared the prosecution inadmissible in the Masbangu-trial in August of last year, the ruling stated that the prosecution had caked upon itself the semblance of class justice by not prosecuting United People’s party leader Theo Heyliger in this election fraud investigation. It didn’t take long for parliamentarians – the name Johan Leonard comes to mind – to state for a fact that the prosecutor’s office is practicing class justice.
“If we were doing that we would have never brought the Masbangu-case to trial,” Maan says. “If you want to keep somebody in the shadows you are not going to prosecute at all. If we practiced class justice we would not have taken the Buncamper-case to trial. The same is true for Matser, Bada Bing, Shigemoto.”
Maan notes that the court ruling of last year in the Masbangu-case is the opinion of a judge about the use of the expediency-principle. How far do you have to go in your investigation? Is it allowed to prosecute a suspect without going after the suspect behind him?”
In the Bada Bing bribery trial the same issue came up, Maan says. “Why not make the investigation broader, why not go after others where the situation is even worse? Maria (Judge Paulides – ed.) has made a statement in her ruling that appears like the opposite of what is stated in the Masbangu-ruling. I am not saying that one is right and the other is wrong. These are legal opinions and they can differ.”
The Bada Bing ruling brings to mind that the government’s prostitution policy is at odds with the law, where it notes that bringing in women from other countries to work in local brothels amounts to human trafficking.
“Yes, that policy violates international treaties,” Maan says. “We are not able to tackle all brothels at once, but this is a topic that has our attention. We have indicated to the Minister of Justice that the prostitution policy violates international treaties. Of course the government is not suspected of any form of involvement in human trafficking but what surprises me is that the fees for the work permits of these ladies is five times as high as that for other work permits. I find that weird. I have made clear explicitly that – apart from what the government does with this – the prosecutor’s office will use the criminal regulations with regard to human trafficking.”
Another issue that came back to the surface recently has to do with the link between casinos and money laundering and the alleged connections between the upper and the underworld. Casinos allegedly exchange large numbers of 500-euro banknotes for dollars at local banks. Is this true for all casinos, or only for some of them?
Maan: “I do not dare to say anything about that, because we have insufficient insight in the flow of this money. You could check through the financial Intelligence Unite which casinos are doing this, but that does not mean that other casinos are not doing the same while masking their activities in a different way. Casinos are complicated subjects and if you really want to figure out what is going on you need financial expertise. We do not have enough of such experts. I am happy though that there is attention now for the closely knit ties between the under and the upper world. Casinos are international, they have all kinds of links with other islands. You need experts to investigate that and with the current staff it is not possible to do this well. We would again end up in a situation whereby one casino is prosecuted and others are not.”
The most high profile casino owner in St. Maarten is Francesco Corallo. Never convicted for anything, but still in the crosshairs of the Italian justice system.
“We have received requests for judicial assistance from Italy and we execute them; that is a legal obligation, we are not allowed to refuse that. We do not know the background of the investigation in Italy, but Corallo is someone whose name has been going around for a long time. When I look at the content of the request for judicial assistance, I assume that Italy has at least some material against him.”
Last year, the prosecutor’s office did searches at Corallo’s home and at the Atlantis Casino in Cupecoy but it did not release any information about the result of the searches. “That is not allowed,” Maan says. “The requesting country is the owner of the information it puts in its request, but also of the information we gather for it. If a request contains information we could use for our own investigation, we need permission from that other country. If it refuses, we cannot use it. If we do it will result in damages to the diplomatic relationship with that country.”
Maan understands the wish of Sint Maarten to have its own attorney-general but he dismisses the thought – as expressed by Justice Minister Dennis Richardson recently – that attorney-general Guus Schram focuses too much on Curacao because he lives there. “I absolutely do not have the feeling that he is only looking at Curacao. Especially now that there is quite some political tension he focuses strongly on Sint Maarten.”
With AG Schram, Maan is shocked about the number of violent crimes in St. Maarten. “If you relate those numbers to the capacity of the police force then it is insufficient for combating that threat.”
Recent anti-Dutch statements made by MP Franklin Meyers in parliament (like, the Netherlands did nothing for us after Hurricane Luis in 1995) create an atmosphere that also affect the prosecutor’s office, Maan says. “It triggers emotions. The prosecutor’s office is always characterized as – they are Dutch who come here for sun, sea, sand and salaries. I sit here with five colleagues who constantly get this kind of blows. But they left their family and everything else behind in the Netherlands to make a contribution to the island. We do not have single local prosecutor – Curacao has eight. We cannot find anybody here who wants to do it, but we keep looking for potential local candidates – paralegals and prosecutors, but nobody comes to us. At a certain moment, Sint Maarten must do all this on its own – at least, that is where you want to go as a country I would think.”