Opinion: Infiltrators

POSTED: 07/8/13 12:26 PM

Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten has some tough measures in mind. He wants higher prison sentences for corruption in the private sector and he also wants to use criminal infiltrators in police investigations. Both measures warrant our attention, especially since The Hague seems to consider St. Maarten the world capital of corruption.

But let’s start with Opstelten’s initiative to get tough on corruption in the private sector. The first question is obviously why the minister singles out the private sector. This makes it look as if private sector corruption is more evil that public sector corruption. The truth is of course that both often go hand in hand.

Opstelten wants to grab 10 percent of the annual turnover of companies that are caught practicing corruption. Let’s take Philips, the Dutch electronics giant with reported 2011 revenue of €22.5 billion, or a bit over $29 billion. Under Opstelten’s proposal, the company is exposed to a maximum fine of $2.9 billion if it’s ever sentenced for corruption.

We figure that Philips would be able to handle such a fine without going belly up. But in corruption-land there are always two parties involved: a giver (of a bribe) and a taker. The latter party is quite often a civil servant.

We know all about those practices in St. Maarten. The worst thing that could happen to corrupt civil servants is that they lose their job, get hit with a conditional prison sentence and some form of community service. We also know that, more often than not, that community service is never executed. It’s more something that looks bad on a resume than something a convict really has to do.

After the summer, we’ll have one of our former ministers in court. We’re not sure whether the charges are for corruption; they could be for breaking his own rules. As far as we know, former Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto granted a multi-million dollar contract to Taxand for revamping the fiscal system without putting the project up for public tender. Whether there were kickbacks involved in this scheme will come out during the court case. In the meantime Taxand Curacao, one of the parties involved in the project has gone up in flames.

What should happen in such a case to the parties involved? Taking 10 percent from someone’s annual salary seems now reasonable, giving Opstelten’s plans for the private sector. All this won’t apply to Taxand Curacao anymore because the company has been banned from using the Taxand brand name. Judith Brewster, one of the partners in this failed adventure, now operates under the name Dutch Caribbean Tax Services, while a court appointed manager is sorting out the mess at Taxand Curacao that has been renamed TC NV. Fat chance that there is something to get at this defunct entity for anybody that suffered at the hands of Brewster, who is accused of stealing huge amounts of money from the company.

St. Maarten may want to look at the Dutch example to get tough on corruption as well, but, as became clear during a recent SHTA-meeting where corruption and good governance were the key topics, it is a two way street. Doing nothing at all and ignoring what is happening in the Netherlands is of course an option – and also a clear signal to the community how the political makers and shakers think about corruption.

Opstelten has other cards up his sleeve to catch the bad guys: he wants to give the police permission (again) to use criminal infiltrators and to give the Public Prosecutor’s office more options to make deals with criminal witnesses in exchange for statements.

This is, in our opinion, a slippery slope. If criminals get incentives in exchange for incriminating statements against others, the credibility of such statements decreases.

In the nineties law enforcement stopped using criminal informants because of the so-called IRT-scandal. At the time, criminal infiltrators imported drugs under the direction of police and the prosecutor’s office with the objective to catch the top of criminal drugs organizations. This led to a parliamentary inquiry, and in the end also to the introduction of the so-called BOB-legislation that regulates special investigation competencies. This legislation is now also in force in St. Maarten.

Opstelten now argues that tackling organized crime is one of the government’s top priorities. Investigators have reached the limits of their possibilities in the fight against criminal gangs. This is why Opstelten wants criminal infiltrators to assist with investigations.

The government also wants to give the Public Prosecutor’s Office more options for deals with criminal informants, so-called crown-witnesses. Up to now they could get at best a 50 percent sentence reduction for their own role. The government wants to up the reward and also regulate payment-options for crown-witnesses. The prosecutor’s office will only be allowed to promise these rewards: the decision about these deals is up to the independent judge.

Prime Minister Rutte has admitted that these deals are not ideal. But if it does not work the way it should, it will have to be done the way it goes, he reasons. In other words: the goal justifies the means.

The BOB-legislation puts extensive tools at the disposal of law enforcement. Opstelten is now apparently if the opinion that this is not enough. We wonder.


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