Opinion: Heavy price to pay

POSTED: 11/29/12 3:24 PM

When Marcel Loor was arrested in the summer of 2007, and the raid at the offices of Standard Trust soon followed, the island was rife with stories about money laundering, bribery and what have you. Today it still is. In the meantime, Marcel Loor and his girlfriend Charlene Craig have been sentenced for money laundering. It stood to reason to expect that Standard Trust, which played a key role on Loor’s money laundering operation, would receive the same treatment from the court.

Yesterday it became clear that this is not going to happen. Standard Trust and its directors were acquitted of money laundering. Why this happened? Investigators made a procedural mistake when they executed an urgent house search at the Standard Trust offices on June 21, 2007. During the search, Standard Trust handed over 27 account books. They were at the core of the charges against the company and its directors.

The appeals court ruled yesterday that because of the procedural mistake, the account books had to be excluded from evidence.

After that, it was almost pain sailing for the defendants, though they did get a conviction for failing to report unusual transactions to the MOT.

The most interesting, and for many people incomprehensible part of the court ruling however deals with the considerations that are further at the basis of the acquittal. Because the account books were left out of the equation – they were not admitted in evidence – the court did not have direct evidence that the money Loor deposited at Standard Trust stems from criminal activities. That Loor and Craig were convicted for money laundering does not enter the equation simply because the Standard Trust case is a separate trial. Nothing to do with Loor.

This is how Loor even earned some credit from the court. It notes in the ruling that Standard Trust asked Loor where he got all that money that he deposited by the truckload, sometimes several times a day.

Well, Loor must have said, I inherited that money from a family member – his grandfather if we remember correctly – and being a police officer I don’t want people in a small community like St. Maarten to know that I have more money than I earn in my function. That is why Loor established an offshore company – Santana Ltd. – where he deposited his stash.

The court noted that this is an explanation that is not beforehand completely implausible. Standard Trust was within its rights to accept the explanation at face value.

The court went even further by stating that Loor and his girlfriend Craig were in good standing in St. Maarten and that they were known customers of the company. The fact that Loor worked for the police and Craig for the Coast Guard contributed to the couple’s status.

Given all that, the court reasoned, Standard Trust had no reason to assume that the money Loor and Craig deposited stemmed from criminal activities.

We just wonder how this story would have ended, had the investigators not blundered with the house search. In that case the account books would have come into play and the trial would most likely have had a different outcome.

Maybe some readers feel that the trust company got off the hook somehow. But is that really so? The names of the defendants have been all over the place and, last but not least, the trust company is no more, because the Central Bank revoked its license. That’s a heavy price to pay for serving a customer in good standing.

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