Court sentences man for money laundering: Rum-trader sees $50,000 go up in smoke

POSTED: 09/20/13 11:29 AM

St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance sentenced 52-year-old Patrick Lazarre to a 6 month conditional prison sentence with 2 years of probation yesterday for money laundering. Lazarre was caught on his way to Haiti at the airport on April 27 with a bit more than $50,000 stuffed under his clothing. The court seized the money.

The defendant told the court that he had legally earned the money by selling Barbancourt Rhum in the Haitian community, but the numbers did not really add up. Lazarre said that he bought the rum in Haiti, paying $80 for a box containing five bottles and that he sold them for $150 per bottle in St. Maarten. Over the past four months he had made thirteen rum trips between the two countries.

“I find this difficult to believe,” Judge Mr. Koos van de Ven said. “You buy the rum for $16 per bottle. Why would people pay ten times that price?”

“It is the number one rum in the world,” the defendant said. Asked whether he paid taxes in St. Maarten, Lazarre remained silent, but his attorney Christian de Jong later said that his client feels he is not subject to paying taxes on the island.

The defendant said that he had told airport officials he was carrying the money on him, that he had been traveling up and down for eight months (instead of the four months he indicated to investigators) and that he works as a math and English teacher in Port-au-Prince. He made all his trips to St. Maarten during the weekend. To investigators Lazarre said he sold the rum for $60 per bottle, but in court he upped the price to $150.

Barbancourt 5-star rum is sold on the internet for $26.99 per bottle. A case of 12 bottles costs $291.49 – bringing the price per bottle down to $24.29.

Prosecutor  Gonda van der Wulp said that the case met several money laundering criteria. “”The defendant attempted to leave the country with the money, he hid the money under his clothing, he did not report it and he carried banknotes that are not usual for daily use. He carried 332 $50-banknotes and 334 $100-banknotes. The defendant’s explanation is not plausible.”

The prosecutor also pointed out that Lazarre had changed his story about the sales price. “If he had sold them for $60 per bottle, he would have had different bank notes in his possession.”

The prosecutor demanded a 6-month prison sentence and seizure of the $50,000.

Attorney  Christian de Jong told the court that his client denies the money he carried stems from any crime. “There are a lot of assumptions and innuendos on the police report but that is not convincing evidence,” he said. “The money is his turnover over four months. He hid the money because there is a large risk of robbery in Haiti.”

The attorney asked the court to acquit his client and to return the money to him.

Judge Van de Ven ruled that there is legal and convincing evidence that the defendant knew the money stems from a crime. The court based its ruling on the circumstances: “You carried the money on your body, mainly in $50 and $100-banknotes, you did not know exactly how much money you had with you and you claim that it is the profit from buying and selling rum.”

The judge calculated that, based on the sales price of $60 per bottle, Lazarre would have made a profit of $11,440 – a far cry from the amount of money found in his possession. Judge Van de Ven had also checked Barbancourt prices on the internet and found that the sales price is nowhere near $60 per bottle for the 5-star variety.

“The court does not accept your explanation. If you feared robbery in Haiti, it would have been logical to take the money back home in smaller amounts during the thirteen trips you made.”

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