Last human smuggling suspect Cerberus-case faces 30 months

POSTED: 01/26/12 12:12 PM

St. Maarten – The prosecution that resulted from the Cerberus-investigation into human smuggling that started in July 2010 has almost come full circle with the trial against Pierre Josias N., the last in a near endless line of nine defendants. Of the other eight seven have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3 months to 6 years and 10 months last year. One suspect was acquitted.
Yesterday’s trial continues on Monday morning, because the court wants to review a copy of a court ruling against the defendant from Tortola. If that ruling shows he was acquitted of human smuggling in the British Virgin Islands, the prosecution will have no choice but to drop that charge in St. Maarten.

The human smuggling gang organized several transports in the months of July, August, November and December of 2010. One of the transports, on December 5 with the Jesus La ended in a tragedy. The boat sank near Tortola and eight people drowned.
Pierre Josias N. stands accused of attempting to organize several transports between July 17 and July 24 2010, and of involvement with another transport on August 14. That last transport ended badly as well, because the boat encountered engine trouble and the crew paddled it ashore on Norman Island near Tortola. The smugglers had put 65 passengers on a boat that was far too small for such a load. Nobody drowned on this trip, but when the passengers came ashore they were all apprehended by the local police. Several passengers later identified Pierre Josias N. as one of the two captains aboard.

The trial started with a rather cumbersome cross examination of two witnesses, who were sentenced both earlier in the same case. Louis Bernard, a 45-year-old who was sentenced to 6 years and 10 months for his involvement in the fatal Jesus La-trip on December 5 2010, kept playing dumb in court, saying that he did not know anything. Judge mr. Monique Keppels reminded the witness that he was under oath and that he did not have the right to remain silent. “By not telling the truth you are committing a crime,” she said. But Bernard persisted in his attitude, repeating that he did not know the current defendant Pierre N.
The second witness, Louis Saint Marc already has a conviction for perjury to his name. In August of last year, the court sentenced him to 20 weeks, with 14 weeks suspended, for lying as a witness in the trial of Jean Journel Cobite by saying that the police had never asked him who the people were that had collected the passengers for the fatal trip with the Jesus La. Yesterday Judge Keppels and prosecutor mr. Manon Ridderbeks reminded Saint Marc of this. “Even if you give me a hundred years I am not going to say anything that is not true,” the 64-year-old replied.
Pierre Josias N. told the court that he had booked a trip on a boat on August 14, 2010 to travel to family in St. Thomas. He claimed to have paid $388 for it. Witnesses identified the defendant as one of the boat’s captains, but N. told the court, “That’s a lie.”

Prosecutor Ridderbeks reviewed the Cerberus-investigation to illustrate the importance of human smuggling-trials. “Human smuggling has been going on for years on St. Maarten. Every day people arrive here illegally, mostly to travel to United States territory, but 25 percent stays behind here. The island is unable to handle that, because this puts pressure on our roads, our schools and our healthcare system.”
mr. Ridderbeks said that the defendant maintained “warm contacts” with the main players in the human smuggling scene like cab driver Erold Montgomery Bolan who is serving a sentence of 4 years and 10 months.
The defendant was not a simple passenger on the August 14 transport towards St. John, Ridderbeks said. “He was one of the captains and he has been identified by two witnesses.”
The prosecutor said that N. initially gave authorities in Tortola a false name and that he had been sentenced in Tortola for illegally entering the country.
“This is not a case of double prosecution,” mr. Ridderbeks said, indicating that according to her information N. had not been tried in Tortola for human smuggling. “He is a human smuggler pur sang. When we received information that he was back in St. Maarten in June 2011, phone taps showed within a week that he was busy again with the same practices.”
mr. Ridderbeks demanded 30 months imprisonment and seizure of the money that was found on him upon his arrest. The prosecutor also announced the intention to start an expropriation procedure against the defendant after his verdict has become irrevocable.
But the case against N. turned out not to be all that straightforward. Attorney mr. Shaira Bommel asked the court to declare the prosecution inadmissible, because her client had been acquitted on human smuggling in Tortola. A copy of the Tortola-verdict was not immediately available, though mr. Bommel said that she would receive it shortly. When the lunch break got in the way, the court decided to adjourn the hearing until Monday morning.
mr. Bommel said that her client had been detained in pretrial custody for 7 months in Tortola and that he had been sentenced to 3 months, only for illegally entering the country. “He was acquitted of human smuggling. It is not to harass somebody twice for the same facts.”The attorney added that her client had indicated that he had nothing to do with human smuggling. She contested N.’s identification by two witnesses in Tortola and noted that the veiled language investigators pulled from the phone taps is in itself insufficient to conclude to human smuggling.”

The charges for attempts at human smuggling in July 2010 have no merit either mr. Bommel said, because the passengers involved in these cases were Brazilians. “They were not illegally in St. Maarten and they did not need a visa for the British Virgin Islands either.
She asked the court to acquit her client on both counts.

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