Money laundering suspect released before sentencing

POSTED: 04/4/13 12:55 PM

Prosecution demands 3 years of imprisonment

St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance terminated yesterday the preventive custody of money laundering suspect Fernando Jose M.M., even though the public prosecutor demanded 3 years of imprisonment against him and Judge Tamara Tijhuis still has to pronounce her verdict on April 24. The 44-year-old Venezuelan suspect has been in custody for 8 months since his arrest on August 2 of last year.

The court pondered the possible verdict against M. and its consequences for his conditional release after serving one third of his prison term, before concluding that terminating his custody was justified.
It was the only victory for M.’s attorney Eppie Sulvaran. The court hearing started at a quarter to ten in the morning and lasted with a brief break until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Sulvaran spent quite some time on preliminary defense arguments.
He told the court that the prosecutor’s office had practiced a “parallel investigation” without notifying the defense, that the investigation was an accumulation of procedural mistakes and that this stood in the way of a proper and fair trial. The attorney furthermore said that the house searches the prosecutor’s office did in two houses in August of last year were unlawful. “The prosecutor has to file a written request for a search with the Judge of Instruction before the search, and not file it four days afterwards,” he said.

Prosecutor Dounia Benammar contested the defense positions. “Parallel investigation is simply allowed and it says nowhere in the law that I have to invite the judge to be present during an interrogation. There is also no rule saying that a request for a search has to be in writing.”
Attorney Sulvaran asked the court to exclude the evidence found during the house search and to declare the prosecution inadmissible. But Judge Tijhuis rejected the requests.
The court spent a long time on questioning the defendant in an attempt to get clarity about his financial situation. When the prosecutor’s office acted on a tip from the American Drug Enforcement Agency and raided a house in Cupecoy and one on Amber Road, a side street of Welfare Road near Billy Folly, they found $690,000 in cash hidden in amongst others a sports bag in a washing machine, a money-counting machine, a gun, a hunting rifle, lots of administration – some of it hidden behind ceilings – and a passport in the name of a woman called Ruby. The same passport has surfaced already in 2007 in a drug-investigation in Curacao. A lot of the money was wrapped the way it is usually done in large drugs transactions. Fernando M. was present in the house on Amber Road where he was arrested on the spot.
The defendant claimed that he had sold a large number of cattle from the family farm in Venezuela in 1997 and 2000 for a total of 5000 million old Bolivian bolivars – according to the defendant representing 8 million new bolivars. (At the current rate of 6.29 bolivars to 1 US-dollar, the defendant’s family capital is worth $1.27 million).

The prosecution charges M. with money laundering and firearm possession. “Questions about

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