Conditional prison sentence, fine, and 3-year ban from office – MP Laveist again found guilty of bribery

POSTED: 10/25/12 12:19 PM

St. Maarten – Four years after he was arrested on bribery charges, the Common Court of Justice sentenced MP Louie Laveist yesterday to a 6 month conditional prison sentence, a 5,000 guilders (close to $2,800) fine and a ban from office for three years. The court imposed 3 years of probation. The ruling does not affect Laveist’s position as a member of parliament, but it excludes him from holding jobs in the civil service and from cabinet-positions.
With this ruling, the case against Laveist has come full circle. In fact, yesterday’s ruling is identical to an earlier sentence the court pronounced on February 11, 2010. Laveist took this ruling to the supreme court. Based on a technicality, that court sent the case back to the appeal court on October 25 of last year.

During the hearing on October 3, Solicitor-General Anton van der Schans demanded 8 months imprisonment with 3 years of probation, a 5,000 guilders fine and a ban from office for 3 years. Of the prison sentence demand, 4 months were conditional.
After the case returned from the Supreme Court, the appeals court re-examined all charges against Laveist, including the ones of which he had already been acquitted in 2010.
Yesterday the court acquitted Laveist again of forging the minutes of a meeting of his Culture Club Foundation, of defrauding the Antillean co-financing organization Amfo and of employing an illegal hairdresser at Barbershop 2.
But two other charges stuck, the same way they did in 2010. Laveist was found guilty of accepting a bribe from Alissio Bembo or his company Bemal Enterprises in October 2003, and of taking a $6,000 bribe from Bargains Unlimited in exchange for work permits for sales representatives while there was at the time a moratorium on permits for foreign employees for such functions.

In 2003 Laveist traveled to Canada at the expense of Bemal enterprises to visit furniture manufacturer Teknion. Laveist told investigators later that this was a private trip, but Bemal was interested in supplying the furniture for the new government building and Laveist was involved in this project as a commissioner.
The court concluded that the only reason for Bembo to pay for the trip was building a relationship with Laveist to promote that his company would get the order to supply the furniture for the new government administration building. “The defendant knew this, or he conscientiously accepted the considerable chance that this was so.”
The court furthermore concluded that Bargains Unlimited made a $6,000 donation to Laveist’s Culture Club Foundation so that he would make sure the company would get work permits for foreign sales clerks, even though there was a moratorium for these functions and even though the Labor Office had advised against granting these permits.

The court found Laveist therefore guilty of two cases of bribery. “This affects the society’s confidence in the objectivity of government decisions. Favoring those who make a donation damages the interests of others who attempt to get in a legal way a government decision that is favorable to them. If it is possible to bribe civil servants, it promotes that others will conclude that they also have to actively pay bribes to obtain the government’s cooperation. That is a threat to the public order,” the court ruled.
Bribery could also lead to decisions that are not necessarily the best choice, the court noted.
The judges in the case – mrs. Van Kooten, Van der Bunt and Lourens – considered in sentencing that Laveist does not have a criminal record. “During the court hearing on appeal he has expressed regrets and shown that he realizes that his actions were reprehensible.”
The court also considered the impact of the prosecution and the media-interest in the case on Laveist’s private life, and the time that has elapsed since the allegations were first brought against him.

Neither Laveist nor his attorney mr. Jason Rogers were present in court when Judge Diederik Thierry read the verdict. Laveist was spotted near the airport in the afternoon and his attorney had to fly out as well. mr. Rogers was in court at the scheduled time, but because there was a delay in the verdict’s transmission from Curacao to St. Maarten he was unable to attend.
Laveist, who has consistently maintained his innocence and said that this is also the reason he went in cassation at the Supreme Court could go the route to The Hague again with yesterday’s ruling but it is not known whether he will do this.

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