Colade-investigation targets Regina Labega and BadejoPOSTED: 10/19/15 12:29 PM
St. Maarten – The office of the public prosecutor confirmed in a brief press release that on Thursday house searches were conducted by the National Detective agency on five locations. The press release labels “R.L., F.A.A.B. and E.F.” as suspects in the so-called Colade-investigation.
Behind the initials are airport director Regina Labega, author Fabian Badejo and Erica Fortuna, reportedly a business partner of his. Attorney Cor Merx said on Thursday that the home of Labega’s sister has been searched twice. The fifth search took place at the offices of Labega at the airport.
The prosecutor’s office notes in its press release that nobody was arrested and that it will not release further information about the investigation.
Merx however, confirmed on Thursday that the investigation is about irregularities at the Tourist Bureau, where Labega was the director until 2011.
On November 4, 2010, then Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Franklin Meyers suspended Labega and her marketing director Edward Dest, barring them from their desks at the Tourist Bureau. Dest immediately told this newspaper “They have nothing on me” and this turned out to be – years later – correct. On March 25 of this year, the Court acquitted Dest of all charges. It would have declared Dest guilty without imposing punishment but because the law does not allow this, it sentenced him to a symbolic one-day prison sentence with 1 day of probation. “You do not deserve punishment,” the court ruling in Dest’s favor states.
Before he arrived at that point though, Dest and Labega threatened to sue the government over their suspension in 2010. On December 1 they were headed for court when Minister Meyers lifted their suspension and the next day they were both back at work. Meyers however filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office for forgery and embezzlement. The prosecutor at the time, Rienk Mud, confirmed this.
After this moment, it became silent around the investigation. Years later, on June 18, 2014, the prosecutor’s office confirmed that Labega was still, a suspect in the Tourist Bureau investigation.
On March 4, 2015 – more than four years after his suspension, Edward Dest appeared in court to defend himself against the accusations. The trial turned into an indictment against the former Executive Council of the Island Territory of St. Maarten and against former director Regina Labega who had in the meantime been appointed as managing director of the airport.
It appeared during this trail that Dest had made certain irregular payments from an account at the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York for the Tourist Bureau at Labega’s instructions, while the funds in this account were earmarked for the promotion of the destination in North America.
Dest only came to trial because he had asked for it himself. He wanted to put the case that ruined his health behind him. The prosecution demanded a 2-month suspended sentence against him but the court acquitted him of all charges.
Prosecutor Nanouk Lemmers said at this trial that chances of prosecuting Labega and another Tourist Bureau employee, Lisa Koffi, were “very real.” She also indicated that there is “more to the case than what Dest was charged with.”
Former Lt. Governor Franklyn Richards was a witness in this investigation. He told investigators “that the whole Executive Council knew that the Tourist Bureau was making business trips without permission and that the government accountant bureau Soab had investigated this.”
In spite of this, Labega was appointed managing director of the Princess Juliana International Airport in 2011. On April 26, current UP-leader Theo Heyliger defended his decision to nominate Labega for the position.
“I believe in the presumption of innocence,” he told this newspaper at the time. “The Public Prosecutor’s Office has had three years to pursue such an investigation. Mrs. Labega is currently working. She has not been suspended. What should we do? Sit in a dark room for three years? Or continue with life as it is.”
Currently Labega is dealing with the results of the security screening for her position of confidence as the airport requires. The results of this screening have been presented to Labega, but they have not been made public. The embattled airport director has the opportunity to defend herself against whatever is in the screening report.
Why the investigation has been labeled Colade is unclear. The word does not exist in English or Dutch. The only link we found was to an event called Colade that took place last August in Panama. It is a Latin American congress – about financial law.