Court handles first Landsrecherche investigation – Corrupt civil servant faces 12 months imprisonment

POSTED: 09/6/12 1:04 PM

St. Maarten – Public prosecutor Georges van den Eshof demanded 12 months imprisonment against 41-year-old Sharon August Benevento Trinidad yesterday for taking bribes from two Chinese entrepreneurs on Illidge Road and for forging a so-called safety warning letter from the Vromi-ministry where he worked as a civil servant. Of the demand, 6 months are suspended; the prosecution asked the court to impose 2 years of probation and to ban Trinidad from any function in the civil service for a period of 5 years. Judge Tamara Tijhuis will pronounce her verdict on September 26.

Trinidad was not in court for his trial and according to the prosecutor he is no longer on the island. mr. Van den Eshof said that an eventual verdict is valid in the whole Kingdom and that he will make sure it will be executed. “I hear he has a girlfriend in the Netherlands, so maybe he is there. Otherwise I will issue an international order for his arrest.”
The bribery case against Trinidad is the first investigation that was executed by the National Detective Agency (the Landsrecherche).

Trinidad targeted entrepreneurs in the Chinese community to solicit bribes, but when his activities became too bold, eight of them went to the prosecutor’s office to file a complaint. Trinidad presented himself as an inspector of the Vromi-ministry and told his potential victims that he was also authorized to track illegals and to close down businesses.
“If you help me I will help you,” was his standard phrase for soliciting bribes. In September of last year he targeted J. Liu, the owner of a Chinese supermarket located on Illidge Road in the building where previously Sunny Foods was established, and T. Lee, who operates the Pitusa Hotel, also on Illidge Road.
For Lee, Trinidad wrote $2,000 on a piece of paper to make clear what he expected. A couple of days later he returned and when Mrs. Lee told him she did not have that kind of money, he said: “Give me what you have.” In the end the hotel owner paid 500 guilders. At the supermarket down the road, Trinidad collected another 1200 guilders.
When he was arrested after the complaints were filed, Trinidad claimed that the $2,000 was a loan he needed to visit his sick father in Panama. About the signatures on the safety warning letter he said that one was his, the other from a colleague who later denied to investigators that he had ever signed such a document.
“This is the first case investigated by the Landsrecherche,” prosecutor Van den Eshof told the court. “This is about tacking abuses within the civil service. This was possible due to complaints files by members of the Chinese community.”

The prosecutor considered both charges proven. “The defendant violated his duties. He promised not to continue with controls in a business if the owners paid him.”
Witnesses told investigators that Trinidad would flee if business owners talked back to him.
“This man is a rotten apple – that is the label he deserves,” prosecutor Van den Eshof said. “He does not have a criminal record, but this is a very serious crime. It affects the confidence of citizens in the government and its institutions, it is damaging for the economy, it deters investors and it damages the country’s image.”
Judge Tijhuis asked the prosecutor for a further explanation about the evidence for the first charge. “The summons states that he is charged with accepting bribes. That suggests that the initiative came from the other side,” she said.
But the prosecutor maintained that the initiative had come from Trinidad with his text, “If you help me, I will help you” and that this does not change the fact that he took the bribes.

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