Uncertainty about justified spending of $326 million – Sona-subsidies may have disappeared into thin air

POSTED: 08/28/13 3:28 PM

St. Maarten – The foundation for the development of the Netherlands Antilles (Sona) is not sure whether €270 million ($362 million) has been spent according to the rules, the Algemeen Dagblad (AD) reported yesterday. The uncertainty is due to what the newspaper calls “unsound bookkeeping.” The paper furthermore reports that part of the Sona-subsidies have fallen victim to fraud.
The newspaper reports that two people have been sentenced for fraud that involved €170,000 ($228,000), without indicating on which island this took place. “The Public Prosecutor’s Office in St. Maarten suspects another pair of fraud, money laundering and embezzlement of a Sona-subsidy of 1 million ($1.34 million),” the paper wrote.
“The only case we have here that involves two men and Sona-subsidies is the investigation against (former Finance Minister Hiro – ed.) Shigemoto and Robert G.,” Solicitor-General Taco Stein told this newspaper yesterday.
Shigemoto was arrested on December 16 of last year as a suspect in the so-called Piranha-investigation. Earlier that month investigators arrested a second suspect, 59-year-old Roberto G.. Both men were released from detention before Christmas.
“We have received the file of this investigation from the National Detective Agency,” Mr. Stein said yesterday. “We are now studying it to determine whether there is enough in it to go to court, or that we still need to do additional research.”
The AD notes that Wilbert Stolte was Sona’s treasurer from 2008 until 2011 when he was appointed the Kingdom’s representative for the BES-islands. Members of the Dutch Parliament are outraged about the way Sona handled the funds and they also question the appointment of Stolte as Kingdom Representative. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs has approved Sona’s financial affairs for all years up to 2011 with the exception of 2010. For that year, the approval was conditional. In the meantime, Sona has implemented improvements, whereupon the books for 2012 were also approved.
A spokesman for Sona told NRC Handelsblad that picked up the AD-story said that the foundation received approval from its accountant KPMG but that the accountant has a difference of opinion with the National Audit Service: “The accountants audit by KPMG is also checked by the National Audit Service. KMPG and the National Audit Service interpreted the control protocol differently. Sona has made efforts to bridge those differences. In that context we successfully took measures already some time ago with regard to the internal management at Sona and at projects that were being executed. In the meantime the National Audit Service has issued a positive advice for Sona’s 2012 annual account.”

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