Court drops prosecution Snowflake-suspects

POSTED: 08/25/11 12:59 PM

Judge declares prosecution inadmissible

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – The surviving suspects in the snowflake cocaine smuggling investigation will not be prosecuted. After considering the arguments of defense attorneys and the public prosecutor for three quarters of an hour in chambers, Judge mr. M. Keppels declared the prosecution inadmissible yesterday afternoon. “Now I can go on with my life,” defendant Michel Jean E., a 35-year-old Martinois said after the decision, but it remains to be seen if the case is really over. Public prosecutor mr. An Angela told this newspaper even before the decision was taken that his office would almost certainly appeal a decision in favor of the defense.
Michel Jean E. was the only defendant present at the court hearing. A second defendant, Elmer Nicandro Virgilio M., 38, from Curacao did not appear, though he had been served a summons in July. The two other defendants in the Snowflake-investigation, Hector Miguel and Rodolfo Arrindell were already beyond prosecution, because they were both murdered earlier this year.
Defense attorneys Mrs. E.R. Sulvaran, M. Vaders and R.M. Stomp were of one mind when they tackled the public prosecutor’s position. At a court hearing on December 14 of last year, the prosecution itself asked the court to declare it inadmissible, after prosecutors had discovered that the investigation’s project leader had antedated a report.
At the time, prosecutor mr. B. den Hartigh did not reveal any details about the antedated report. Judge Keppels however, demanded more information before taking a decision about the prosecution’s request. On March 23, the prosecution came back to court, but this time with a different opinion: the contested and antedated report was actually irrelevant, “a cosmetic report that does not contain evidence,” and asked the court to proceed with the trial.
The Snowflake-investigation revolves around cocaine transports from Colombia via St. Maarten to the Netherlands. All in all, the suspects stood accused of transporting 623 kilos of the drug, of which 170 kilos was confiscated in a house in Cole Bay last year in May.
The Snowflake-investigation stems from the Bentz-investigation in Curacao. Project-leader van de V. wrote the transfer-file …..
Yesterday defense attorneys attacked the prosecution’s change of mind with a vengeance. Mr. Sulvaran argued that the prosecution had taken a definitive position during the hearing on December 14, when it asked the court to declare it inadmissible in the prosecution of the Snowflake-suspects. “The prosecution is only allowed to make one demand,” Sulvaran said. “More than one conclusion is not possible. When the prosecution formulates its demand it has reached the point of no return. Repetitive moves you find in chess, not in court cases.”
Sulvaran spiced up his plea with expressions like “cutting capers,” “arbitrariness,””gross violations” and “legally incomprehensible.” “This must lead to the inadmissibility of the prosecution,” Sulvaran concluded. “The defendants trusted after December 14 that they would no longer be prosecuted.”
Sulvaran also criticized the actions of investigators. “It is worrying that somebody who antedates a report was charged with this investigation,” he said. We ask ourselves: how often did this happen before? It is unclear whether this is a matter of incompetence, bad faith or that it was done on purpose. It is a straightforward threat to a defendant’s right to a fair trial. The control-mechanism within the police and the public prosecutor’s office is no good. The actions of the prosecutor’s office resemble a confession after the church has gone up in flames.”
Referring to the December court hearing, Sulvaran wondered: “Were we misled then, or are we misled now?” The attorney scoffed at the idea that the defense ought to be grateful that the prosecution revealed the incorrect date on the report. “Transparency is an obligation on the part of the prosecutor’s office e, nothing to be thankful for,” he said.
mr. M. Vaders pointed out that intentionally putting a wrong date in an official report is forgery. “That is a crime and it is punishable with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment,” she said. Vaders said that the project leader, identified outside the courtroom by prosecutor Angela as Van de V. – had confessed. “What was his motive?” Vaders said. “His motive was to make the facts tally with the case file. Antedating a report contaminates all the officer’s actions. The whole investigation has been contaminated.”
Earlier, prosecutor Angela told the court that the investigation by the National Detective Agency (the landsrecherche) into the actions of project leader Van de V. was not complete yet. The officer has been repatriated to the Netherlands, where he still has to be interrogated about the case. The attorney general has announced that the public prosecutor’s office will prosecute the officer. The trial will take place at a later date in Curacao, with or without the officer’s presence.
Mr. Stomp agreed with his colleagues and asked the court urgently to declare the prosecution inadmissible. Stomp expressed his astonishment that one and a half year after the fact the investigation still is not complete.
Angela disputed Sulvaran’s notion that the prosecution cannot change its mind. “Nowhere in the law does it state that the prosecution can make a demand only once,” he said. Angela \stressed that the prosecution does not have the last say in the matter, and that it is up to the court to take a decision. He indicated that Judge Keppels’ request for additional information in December had triggered a closer inspection of the facts; this had led in the end to the prosecution’s change of heart from asking the court to declare it inadmissible to asking it to proceed with the trial.
Judge Keppels mulled things over for close to three quarters of an hour, but she did not need a lot of time to formulate her decision. “The criterion is whether the defendants will have a fair trial. The question is whether the report in the file is reliable. The officer has intentionally antedated it, and the public prosecutor has presented two different conclusions. The first one was that the report is critical to the investigation, and the second conclusion was that it is not critical to the investigation. Even at this moment it cannot be established whether the report is correct or not. Now that we don’t know this, there is only one conclusion possible and that is that the prosecution has to be declared inadmissible. That is my decision.”

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