Curacao Prosecution wants Gerrit Schotte in prisonPOSTED: 02/19/16 2:35 PM
Gerrit Schotte and Cicely van der Dijs arrive at the courthouse. Photo contributed
Babel-trial begins in Curacao
WILLEMSTAD – The public prosecutor demanded 3 years of imprisonment against former Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte in the Babel-case yesterday. The prosecution also wants to deny Schotte the right to be elected in elections for parliament for five years. Against his girlfriend Cicely van der Dijs the prosecution demanded 18 months of imprisonment, with 9 months suspended and 3 years of probation.
The prosecution had a remarkable motivation for its demand against Schotte: “So that Curacao will not again be saddled with a politician who lets himself be bribed by a gambling boss like Corallo.” The prosecution also wants to seize assets from Schotte.
According to the prosecution, Schotte gave Francesco Corallo, owner of the Starz Casino and other casinos in St. Maarten, a say in the appointment of ministers. This is the first court case on Curacao where the influence of gambling bosses on politics becomes visible, the Volkskrant reported yesterday.
“Where is the money coming from, transferred to a Swiss account, in the name of a company of yours in the Marshall Islands?” the judge asked Schotte. “I call on my right to remain silent,” the former prime minister said, as he did to every question thrown in his direction.
The prosecution has called Schotte a “puppet” of casino-owner Francesco Corallo and “a corrupt politician.” According to the prosecution, Corallo gave Schotte more than $1 million, partially channeled through companies of Schotte’s girlfriend. In exchange, Schotte had to deliver sensitive government information and influence, through his party MFK.
“Schotte sold the interest of Curacao to a casino entrepreneur,” the prosecutor said. Schotte was to recommend Corallo internationally and to land him an important function at the Central Bank.
“A dangerous situation,” the prosecutor told the court “Corallo obtained a say in politics through his gifts. He could be part of decision making.”
Initially, Schotte and Corallo wanted to establish a new political party together. “Schotte needed permission from Corallo to appoint ministers, he was not allowed to do that alone,” the prosecutor stated. “If he did not do what Corallo wanted, he had to give the money back.”
The judge showed Schotte confiscated email exchanges that show how the casino boss wanted to use his influence. Corallo intervened for instance in the composition of the list of candidates. When Schotte showed Corallo in 2010 a doctor as a possible candidate, the answer was: “If you are a good doctor, it does not mean that you are a good minister.”
Corallo also asked Schotte to put in a word for him with the Italian Minister of Home Affairs, on official correspondence paper of the prime minister. The court also quoted from a mail exchange to nominate an associate of Corallo, with only a hospitality degree, as president of the Central Bank of Curacao and Sint Maarten.
Schotte was a member of the Island Council for other political parties until he established MFK several weeks before the 2010 elections. On 10-10-10 Curacao became a country after the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles and Schotte became its first prime minister, one of the youngest in the world.
During his first business trip to the Netherlands, on October 18, 2010, Schotte continued his journey to Rome. “An associate of an Italian company of Corallo arranged for you an appointment with an exclusive men’s fashion store in Rome,” the judge tells the defendant.
Schotte’s attorney Eldon Sulvaran spoke of a “political process of the establishment” that supposedly sees the young politician as a threat. Sulvaran has stalled the trial several times; once he asked the judge to be excused from the case, another time by requesting a long list of witnesses. The first pro forma hearing took place almost a year ago.
Schotte is also charged with embezzling a diplomatic passport. He reported it as missing, but it was later found back in a safe in the company of his girlfriend’s family.
Schotte showed some optimism about the trial in a local radio broadcast yesterday. “My attorney will explain exactly how the complot against me is set up. It will be very interesting.”
In spite of all the accusations, the Volkskrant reports, Schotte remains popular in Curacao. “He would make a good chance to win the elections later this year.”