Prosecution demands again prison time against Laveist

POSTED: 10/4/12 12:48 PM

St. Maarten – The lengthy trek through the courts that started back in 2008 for former Commissioner Louie Laveist could end with some benefits for the embattled politician. Solicitor-General mr. Taco Stein demanded yesterday in the Common Court of Justice a sentence that is significant lower than the sentence the Court in First Instance handed down in late April 2009. The court had to retry the case, after the Supreme Court found procedural mistakes in the July 19, 2010 verdict from the appeals court.
In 2009, the Court in First Instance sentenced Laveist to 18 months imprisonment, with 9 months suspended, a 5,000 guilders ($2,775) fine, three years of probation and a 5-year ban from office. After the verdict, Laveist resigned from his position as Commissioner in the Executive Council.
In 2010, the appeals court overturned this verdict and sentenced Laveist to a 6 month conditional prison sentence, a 5,000 guilders fine and a 3-year ban from office – meaning that he cannot become a minister or work in the civil service, but that he is entitled to remain in parliament as a member of the National Alliance faction.
Yesterday, Solicitor-General Stein demanded 8 months imprisonment, with 4 months suspended, 3 years of probation, a 5,000 guilders fine, and a 3-year ban from office. The court will pronounce its verdict on October 24.
The retrial became necessary because of a technicality. The Supreme Court found on October 25 of last year that the Common Court of Justice had failed to include the evidence on which its sentence was based in the verdict. Instead, the court had listed its evidence in an addendum. For this reason, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court.
Solicitor-General Stein found Laveist guilty of forging the minutes of his Culture Club Foundation exactly eight years ago today, on October 4, 2004, and of taking bribes from Bemal Enterprises October 2003 and from Bargains Unlimited in 2007. Finally, Laveist was also accused of employing a hairdresser without a work permit in Barbershop 2.
Bemal offered Laveist an all-expense paid trip to Canada to visit several suppliers of office furniture. Bemal expected to get an edge in the bid for equipping the new government administration building with furniture. Bargains Unlimited paid $6,000 to the Culture Club Foundation in exchange for 8 work permits – though Laveist denied these allegations.
“I went on appeal because I did not purposely commit any crime,” he told Judge van Kooten yesterday. “I want to see if I can get it overturned.”
The forged minutes of the Culture Club were designed to obtain a subsidy from the Antillean Co-Financing organization Amfo for Laveist’s Rally Around the Flag project in 2004. Because Laveist was a commissioner at the time, Amfo would only honor the request if he resigned as the president of the Culture Club Foundation.
According to Laveist, he settled this matter by phone with other members of the foundation (among them his wife Bertille) and had his office assistant Roberto Richardson draw up the minutes. Those minutes never reached the Chamber of Commerce though, and Richardson denied to investigators that he had accepted to succeed Laveist as president. Others who are mentioned as board members in the minutes, like Virgilio Brooks and Liane Arnell, denied that they had ever accepted a position on the board.
While Solicitor-General Stein considered the forging of these minutes proven, he did not find enough evidence that Laveist had defrauded Amfo out of the 22,775 guilders subsidy, mainly because there is no proof that the funds were used for anything else than the Rally Around the Flag project..
“I was not a seasoned commissioner, I was a rookie in 2003,” Laveist said about the alleged bribery by Bemal enterprises. “I was one year in office and I was not in charge of the new government administration building. I was only the portfolio-holder.”
“You know that politicians in this region have a bad name for corruption,” Judge van Kooten told the defendant. “And you never thought: this is a bit weird?”
That remark referred to the allegation that Bemal had offered the trip to Canada, paid the tickets for a total of $3,000 and took care of hotel accommodation as well. He also allegedly offered $10,000 in cash, but Laveist said he knew nothing about that money.
The second bribery charge concerns Bargain Unlimited, a company that operates Joey’s Jewelry on Front Street. Laveist solicited $6,000 as a donation for his Culture Club’s radio program. Later the Executive Council approved eight work permits for sales associates for the company, even though there was a moratorium on those positions for foreigners at the time.
“I did not connect the work permits with the donation to the Culture Club,” Laveist told the court. “It took about a year after the donation before those work permits reached my desk.”
Alessio Bembo, the owner of Bemal Enterprises is a neighbor of Laveist and he was part of Laveist’s campaign team in the 2003 island council elections. “The trip to Canada was promised to me before the elections.” Laveist said. “He saw that I needed some rest and as a friend he offered me some rest and recreation.”
Laveist said that Barbershop 2 did not belong to him but to a nephew of his.
“I regret some of the judgment calls I have made. I am not a criminal,” and at times emotional Laveist told the court. “I have never accepted a bribe for the most important symbol of my country – the flag. I could not look at myself in the mirror for that.”
Laveist’s attorney mr. Jason Rogers pleaded his client’s case at the beginning of the evening. Today will report about the defense arguments in tomorrow’s edition.

Did you like this? Share it:
Prosecution demands again prison time against Laveist by

Comments are closed.