Trial postponed until April 14: Court severely criticizes election fraud investigation

POSTED: 02/18/14 11:33 AM

St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance severely criticized the investigation into election fraud yesterday. Judge Koen Luijks ruled that the investigation is incomplete, that documents are missing from the file and that the long time it took to bring the case to court could possibly be ground to declare the prosecution inadmissible. The judge postponed the trial to April 14 for a pro forma hearing. Attorney Cor Merx immediately filed a request to challenge the judge.

The courtroom was packed to capacity for what many apparently expected to become a spectacle. Four of the five defendants in the election fraud case appeared. The fifth one, Robert Charles Henry J. was unable to attend because he is recovering from a hip-operation. His attorney Jenna Westra asked the court for this reason to postpone his case.

Shaira Bommel, the attorney for United People’s Party representative Roy H. also asked for a postponement, because she had received the case file only a few days ago and she needed more time to study it. Her client also wishes to hear witnesses, Bommel said. Prosecutor Maarten Noordzij objected to the request for a postponement, saying that the case file had been ready for pick up ever since last week Monday.

Cernick C. initially had petitioned the court for a postponement as well, but yesterday his attorney Cor Merx said his client had changed his mind and wished to continue.

Ashwin M., represented by Cindy Marica, was also ready to proceed with the trial.

The fifth defendant, Glinda W. did not have an attorney and when asked by the judge she indicated she wished to proceed without one.

Prosecutor Maarten Noordzij did not object to the request to postpone the trial for Charles Henry J., but he wanted to proceed with the other cases.

Judge Luijks suspended the hearing for ten minutes to consider all requests; when he came back, he announced the postponement of all cases until a pro forma hearing on April 14.

The judge explained that in his opinion the case file is incomplete. Certain information that is mentioned in police reports has not been added to the file. A document-investigation that took place on February 14 of last year does not make clear which documents have been scrutinized. The judge wants to have these documents also added to the file.

His most serious criticism was yet to come. “The investigation is incomplete,” Luijks said. “The charge against the defendants is that they have accepted money or promises from a representative of the United People’s Party. An investigation against the UP has been initiated and the conclusion was that neither the UP, nor any other political party, had bribed voters. It is difficult to reconcile that with the accusations.”

Judge Luijks noted that a representative of a party (like defendant Roy H.) “supposes the presence of a principal, but that conclusion is not in the police report. If no criminal act against the UP has been established, how is it then possible that a representative of that party could do something like that?’

Judge Luijks quoted from the investigation where Roy H. was asked to whom he was accountable. “To Theo Heyliger,” was the answer, a reference to the leader of the UP and current Member of Parliament.

“This is weird,” Luijks noted. “This has to be investigated.”

The judge furthermore had serious questions about the time that elapsed between the moment the defendants supposedly sold their votes (in September 2010) and the moment the case came to trial. “On October 298, 2010, the chief commissioner of police offered the prosecutor’s office a file about his investigation. On November 12, the attorney-general instructed the prosecutor’s office to go ahead with the investigation. Only on August 6, 2012, did the chief prosecutor ask the attorney-general permission for the investigation. And on February 14, 2013, the file of the investigation was complete. After that, it took another year to bring the case to trial. A violation of the reasonable term could be in play here.”

Attorney Cor Merx said that with the decision to postpone, the court was going too far. He questioned the court’s impartiality and submitted a request to challenge the court. If the court honors the request, Judge Luijks will have to withdraw from the case.

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