Possible link to Snowflake drug investigation – Money laundering suspect remains in custody

POSTED: 02/28/13 12:30 PM

St. Maarten – The remarkable story of Fernando Jose M.-M. continued in the Court in First Instance yesterday with more tantalizing details about the way he ended up with $690,000 in cash, partly stashed in his washing machine. The prosecution charges the defendant with money laundering and firearm possession, while the defense maintains that the 44-year-old Venezuelan legally made his large pile of cash.

The focus was yesterday on the request by attorney Eppie Sulvaran to end or suspend his client’s pre-trial detention, but the court rejected it at the prosecution’s request, the trial was postponed until April 3.

Prosecutor Dounia Benammar said that the investigation is not complete yet. The Public Prosecutor’s Office filed three international requests for legal assistance: one to Portugal, one to Curacao and one to Venezuela. The information from Portugal has arrived and the translation of the documents is about ready, the prosecutor said. Another piece of the puzzle has to come from Curacao; this is awaiting the results of a DNA-test.

The request to Venezuela is more complicated. The prosecutor’s office sought confirmation of the defendant’s claim that he is a large landowner and that he has a company in Venezuela; all this could explain the money that was found at his house in St. Maarten on August 2 of last year.

“The prosecutor’s office attempted to review statements by the defendant in Venezuela. But we received no documents such as copies of bank statements, or the annual account of the company showing the turnover. The request for legal assistance from Venezuela has lost its relevance for us,” mr. Benammar said.

Attorney Sulvaran found this statement incomprehensible. During a hearing at the Common Court of Justice in October of last year, where he asked the court to suspend his client’s preventive custody, Sulvaran submitted documents that support the statements the defendant made to investigators.

mr. Sulvaran said that the Common Court ruled in October that there is no flight risk or a chance that his client will commit similar crimes, and that the investigation no longer warrants his custody. The attorney said that the Judge of Instruction ignored these arguments one week later.

He noted that the defendant has already spent 7 months in custody. “He has served his time already,” he said, referring to sentences in more or less similar cases. “You may not let my client run the risk that he will spend more time behind bars than the possible sentence.”

mr. Sulvaran said that his client had obtained his money legally through currency exchanges and that he had sold 1,900 heads of cattle and large pieces of land in his country of birth.

Prosecutor Benammar contested the request to end the defendant’s custody, saying that there are sufficient serious objections.”To my astonishment the Common Court ruled that there is no flight risk. This for a man who has spent thousands of dollars on the island leasing several houses at the same time and whose busy travel pattern appears from the stamps in his passport. He has no relationship with our island so there is quite a flight risk.”

The prosecutor said that this information had surfaced after the decision by the Common Court. She also cited the suspicious circumstances investigators found: “The money was hidden in several places, the house was leased in somebody else’s name and he lied about the firearm possession. His DNA was found on both the gun and the hunting rifle. This defendant travels to St. Maarten on a regular basis and he leased a house in Cupecoy for a year.”

The prosecutor added that it is “quite possible” that the defendant owns land in Venezuela. “But the link between that land and this money I do not see. If you want to show something, you’ll have to present an annual account or documents linked to the sales of those cows.”

The story of the cattle-sale turned out to be slightly awkward, because according to the prosecution this happened fourteen years ago. mr. Benammar maintained that the defendant had no proper explanation for the source of the $690,000

“He claims that $400,000 stems from the sales of his cattle and the rest from other sources, this amounts to about $670,000. But he has also spent $150,000 on the island and there is no explanation for where that money came from.”

In November, prosecutor George van den Eshof revealed that during the search of the defendant’s house identity papers were found that seem to be related to “an old investigation of the detective collaboration Team RST – a drugs investigation. We want to compare DNA of the defendant with evidence in that case.”

While it did not become entirely clear yesterday, the drugs case the prosecutor referred to is probably the Snowflake investigation. This investigation was about the smuggling of more than 600 kilos of cocaine from Colombia via Curacao and St. Maarten to Europe. The main suspects in that investigation, Hector Miguel Arrindell and his brother Rodolfo were both murdered last year by Omar Jones and Carlos Richardson, the main players in a rivaling drugs gang. Jones and Richardson are currently serving life sentences. The prosecution was declared inadmissible in the Snowflake trial because an RST-officer had ante-dated a report in the file.

Judge Tamara Tijhuis concluded that serious objections against the defendant’s release remain. “The documents that supposedly explain the origin of the money do not remove these objections.”

The Judge cited flight risk and the shocked legal order as other arguments to reject the request to release the defendant. She also disagreed with attorney Sulvaran about the possible sentence in this case.”I do not see that the sentence will be lower than the preventive custody.”

 

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