Financial experts needed to complete Tourist Bureau probe

POSTED: 04/17/12 3:08 PM

St. Maarten – The National Detective Agency has finally started its investigation into embezzlement charges against employees at the Tourist Bureau. Chief Prosecutor Hans Mos told this newspaper yesterday that the investigation has encountered some “hiccups”: “We need financial experts and that expertise is not available within the National Detective Agency. We expect to have a solution within a reasonable period of time.”

The embezzlement allegations against employees of the Tourist Bureau come from the former head of the finance department Bas Roorda. The government fired Roorda per May 1 of last year, after he had filed a complaint at the prosecutor’s office about suspected malversation with day-compensation for business trips abroad.

Included in the complaint are the names of the former director of the Tourist Bureau Regina Lageba who is now director of Princess Juliana International Airport and former Tourism Commissioner Frans Richardson who is currently an independent member of parliament. According to Roorda, the malversation consists of unjustified claims to the $300 per day compensation for business trips abroad. In some occasions, civil servants left later than planned, or returned earlier, but they failed to return the compensation for those days that they were actually not abroad but in St. Maarten.

The investigation remained in limbo for quite some time, because it had to be done by the National detective agency –the Landsrecherche. This special unit was in the process of being established last year. Initially the first members of the team, led by Ademar Doran, had to work from cramped office space at the prosecutor’s office in the vineyard building. The agency has now its own offices and it also has hired more detectives.

The Tourist Bureau investigation is the first of a series of cases it will have to handle. A second, and possibly even bigger investigation concerns the former Public health Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus and her husband Claudius. In 2008, the couple sold the economic ownership of a piece of government-owned land on Pond Island it holds in long lease under suspect circumstances to Eco-Green N.V., a company that was established three days before the transfer. Theo Walters, a retired employee of Public Works acted on paper as Eco-Green’s statutory director. The Buncampers sold the economic ownership for $3 million.

When Minister Buncamper announced on December 23, 2010 that she made her position available, she told the parliament that “no money had changed hands” in the Eco-Green deal. Opposition leader William Marlin said at the time in an interview with this newspaper that the case smelled of money laundering.

A decision about the Buncamper-investigation is expected within the next month.

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