Transparency International integrity report: “No leading role law enforcement in fight against corruption”

POSTED: 08/6/15 6:45 PM

St. Maarten – “Until now law enforcement agencies have not played a leading role in fighting corruption in St. Maarten,” Transparency International writes in its National Integrity System Assessment about St. Maarten. The report notes that since 2010, five cases have been under investigation, of which two have concluded at the end of last year.

The report does not provide specifics, but the two cases that were in court in December 2014 were against UP-MP Silvio Matser for tax fraud and against former Minister Shigemoto for forgery and embezzlement. The court acquitted Shigemoto in May of all charges for fraud, embezzlement, forgery and money laundering. The court convicted Matser in January to 24 months imprisonment, with 18 months suspended. His company Energizer has to pay a fine of 4.5 million guilders. In spite of his conviction, Matser has kept his seat in parliament.

The TI-report heard from respondents that “investigation is long-term reactive.” As an example, the report mentions the bribery case against “a Member of Parliament” (former MP Patrick Illidge) in which “prosecution was initiated only after a video of the affair was put on the internet.”

This is not entirely correct. The Dutch newspaper Telegraaf was the first to report about the existence of the video (the newspaper did not have a copy) on March 6, 2013, when a St. Maarten delegation was in The Hague for a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Consultation (Ipko). Illidge was part of this delegation.

After reading the story, Today approached colleagues at the Daily Herald, using its knowledge that the Herald had had a copy of “a video” already for some time without doing anything with it. On the evening of May 7, 2013, the Herald published the video on its website.

The next day, the National Detectives Agency knocked on the newspaper’s door on Bush Road to obtain a copy of the video. In other words, the authorities reacted swiftly after the news broke.

TI notes in is report that respondents feel that “corresponding verdicts” are improbable in the cases that are under investigation. The reason they give for this opinion is that it has taken the prosecutor’s office a long time to start some of these investigations.

In the Masbangu-case this is certainly true. This investigation is about allegations of election fraud that took place ahead of the 2010 elections. The case went to trial more than three years later, in the beginning of 2014, even though the police had provided a clear report about the issue that would have made taking the case to trial a piece of cake.

In August, the court threw the case out by declaring the prosecution inadmissible. It ruled that the prosecutor’s office had “called upon itself the semblance of class justice” by not prosecuting the leader of the United People’s party, Theo Heyliger and to go only after the police officer who had sold their vote and an uncle of the party leader who had provided the cash. The appeals court has overruled this decision and the Court in First Instance will have to do the trial all over again in the near future.

The report notes that the Kingdom has offered to send more prosecutors, specialized in white-collar crime but that the Government of St. Maarten has not agreed to the offer yet.

Other investigations involving politicians are the one against former Public Health Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus, who will go to trial in September and the one against former MP Louie Laveist. He saw a long trek through the courts end in October 2012 with a conditional prison sentence of 6 months, a 5,000 guilders fine and a ban from office for three years on bribery-charges.

An investigation against former MP Romain Laville is still underway, but his case has nothing to do with integrity issues.

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