Prison time looms for Buncamper-couplePOSTED: 03/21/16 7:01 PM
Ex-minister and husband found guilty on all counts but one
St. Maarten News / By Hilbert Haar – The public prosecutor demanded 18 months of imprisonment against Maria Buncamper-Molanus and her husband Claudius yesterday. The demand against retired notary Francis Gijsbertha was 15 months, and against SBS-director Ivan Havertong 12 months.
For the Buncampers, 6 months of the demand is suspended, for Gijsbertha 5 months and for Havertong 4 months. A fifth suspect, Oniel Walters, faces a 4-month suspended sentence for being a figurehead in a scheme former Public Health Minister Buncamper-Molanus and her husband devised to fill their pockets with land speculation and other fraudulent activities. The prosecution wants a probation period of 3 years for all suspects.
Prosecutor Dounia Benammar announced that her office will also initiate a procedure to seize the illicit profits the Buncampers pocketed – estimated at 635,000 guilders. This procedure will become possible after a conviction and after the verdict has become irrevocable.
The prosecution asked the court to acquit all suspects of membership of a criminal organization, due to uncertainty about the existence of a common goal. “There were different interests for the suspects that were served at different moments in the chain of punishable acts.”
The prosecution finds the Buncampers guilty of five crimes. They directed the bogus company Eco Green, while the company filed incorrect profit tax returns for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011, and while they personally filed incorrect income tax returns for the years 2009 and 2010. They committed forgery by signing the deed of December 19, 2008 that transferred the economic ownership of a piece of land in Pond Island and are responsible for a forged commercial lease agreement and a forged mortgage deed, both in the name of Eco Green. Lastly, on December 19, 2013, they forged a deed of sale of the right of long lease.
Notary Gijsbertha was according to the prosecution instrumental to the forged deed, the lease agreement and the mortgage deed, charges that should also stick with defendant Walters.
SBS-director Havertong is punishable for the forged commercial lease agreement and the deed of sale of the right of long lease.
Prosecutor Benammar began her demand with a quote from an interrogation of retired notary Gijsbertha: “As far as the use of the right of long lease in St. Maarten I have to say that it is business as usual here that you want to profit from it. The holder of the right of long lease wants to exploit it, have it exploited or sell it for a big bag of money.”
Referring to the series of article in Today in December 2010 that revealed the deal the Buncampers had going, the prosecutor said that the Buncampers had “a piece of land in long lease that they exploited in violation of the rules.”
Basically, the Buncampers sold the economic ownership of the land for $3 million to Eco-Green, while they held it in long lease for around $10,000 a year. Eco Green then signed a commercial lease agreement with SBS that has been using the land anyway already since 2005 for its building materials business. The construction was designed to get around the ban on subletting long lease land without the permission of the government.
The prosecution made a detailed and chronological presentation of the steps in the investigation and the steps the Buncampers took to realize their scheme.
While some of these details are mesmerizing, the conclusion of the prosecutor neatly sums up why what the five suspects did was wrong. “Suspect Gijsbertha explained ad nauseam that this was a legal construction and that there was nothing wrong with it. The other defendants take shelter behind the notary and say that they ought to be able to trust his expertise.”
But the criminal charges do not focus on this construction whereby the Buncampers sold the economic ownership to get around the ban on subletting the land. “The long lease legislation is insufficiently clear whether the transfer of economic ownership is permitted. You could have a moral judgment about the way the suspects acted but it is up to the government to fine-tune the rules if the community asks for it. The Public Prosecutor’s Office notes however that the lack of clarity in the legislation facilitates the possibility to abuse the system.”
From this perspective it is amazing that the government did not intervene in 2013 when the Buncampers sold the right of long lease for $345,000. “The lack of good legislation and effective law enforcement made it very easy for the suspects.”
What the prosecutor’s office holds against the suspects is that they presented a false picture of the course of events with the transfer of the economic ownership and the subsequent agreements.
“The Buncamper-couple used Eco Green as a figure head to generate rental revenue of $3 million that in reality was not rental income.”
And so there were other irregularities, like the claim that Eco Green would use the land while in reality SBS had been using it already in violation of the long lease rules for three years.
Buncamper’s intention to develop the land commercially did not pan out, because they already had a deal with SBS before they rented it in 2005. “They made lots of money by subletting the land to SBS. The island rented for 22,000 guilders per year to Buncamper, while SBS paid $10,000 per month, instead of the 2,100 guilders they put on paper.
In 2008, when the annual long lease fee was around $10,000 the rent went to $18,750 per month. The Buncampers also demanded $750,000 in key money.
“For this monetary gain they commit forgery in agreements and authentic deeds with the help of a notary and they do not pay taxes over this income by not reporting it. The articles in the Today newspaper revealed these abuses. But even when the careful construction of lies collapses due to the publications, the Buncampers were still prepared to seek refuge in lies and deceit,” the prosecutor said.
The Buncampers sold the right to long lease “for a fictitious low amount of $345,000” and this profit “disappeared completely in the pockets of the Buncampers.
As the ultimate beneficial owners of a company called Western Isles, the couple also received a package of Concrete Mix shares that they sold for $1,145,000.
The prosecutor expressed her amazement about the fact that, in spite of the publications in Today and the investigation by the National Detectives Agency, the country still granted permission to sell the right of long lease. “This made it possible for the Buncampers to cash in, in spite of their criminal behavior. This is in fact the land speculation that the national ordinance for long lease wants to prevent.”
In determining the demand against the Buncampers, the prosecutor considered the couple’s social status. “They had a role model function.”
The profit the Buncampers made from this racket is around 635,000 guilders, but the couple also holds a third of the shares in the Concrete Mix Company, valued between 300,000 and 600,000 guilders. “The dividend the Buncampers received for their share in 2015 was 100,000 guilders,” the prosecutor said. “If it is up to my office this illicitly obtained capital will have to be paid back.”
The prosecution also had serious criticism in stock for retired notary Gijsbertha. The 71-year-old, who repeatedly blamed this newspaper for his ill-fortune, “let the financial interest of his clients Molanus and Buncamper prevail over his legal task. He seriously damaged the office of the notary and the social position of the notary in general,” the prosecutor said.
“These crimes touch upon the core of the function of the notary. The community must be able to have confidence in the documents he draws up and signs. That confidence in the work of the notary makes the community highly value an authentic deed he draws up. That confidence has been seriously damaged in this case.”
About Oniel Walters the prosecutor remarked that it is seemingly “not the first time he makes his name available to the Buncampers.” For acting on paper as the director of Eco Green, Walters received a monthly “commission” of $1,500. “He did not have to do anything for it, but delivering the mail and picking up his check.”
Lastly, the prosecutor said that the time that has elapsed before the case came to court works in favor of Buncamper-Molanus. “On the other hand, she was a representative of the people of whom one may expect even more that she sticks to the law.”