By Hilbert Haar
GREAT BAY – The defendants in the 2013 Bada Bing bribery case all said they had done nothing wrong on the first day after their appeal hearing yesterday morning, but the solicitor-general asked the court to confirm the verdicts of the Court in First Instance against all defendants.
The prosecution therefore again demands a 42-month prison sentence against Bada Bing owner Jaap van den Heuvel, with 12 months suspended. Against Bada Bing manager Krijn van der Brug the prosecution demands a 9-month conditional sentence combined with 240 hours community service. Former Member of Parliament Patrick Illidge is again facing 18 months of imprisonment, with 6 months suspended and a ban from holding office and from passive voting rights for five years. Lunteren NV, the entity that operates Bada Bing is facing a 1.5 million guilders fine. The court will pronounce the verdicts three weeks from now, on Thursday August 31.
Van den Heuvel was sentenced on March 6, 2015 for bribing Patrick Illidge (at the time an independent member of parliament), forgery, money laundering, trafficking in women and fiscal crimes. Illidge was sentenced for accepting a bribe from Van den Heuvel, while Bada Bing manager Van der Brug and Lunteren NV were sentenced for trafficking in women. Lunteren was also sentenced for money laundering and fiscal offenses.
A video showing how Van den Heuvel seemingly paid Illidge $15,000 in his office at Bada Bing surfaced on March 9, 2013. It triggered an uproar that initially focused on Illidge.
Van den Heuvel said in an interview this newspaper published on March 16, 2013 that the money was the repayment of a loan. He also stated that he had made the video at the request of United People’s party leader Theo Heyliger. According to Van den Heuvel, Heyliger wanted to embarrass Illidge to the point that he would withdraw his support for the National Alliance-DP coalition he supported together with then independents Frans Richardson and Romain Laville.
“I gave the recording to Theo, and he gave it to the Daily Herald,” Van den Heuvel said at the time. “He asked me to start with Patrick about Marlin and he was going to use that to bring Patrick back to his side.”
Van den Heuvel – who consulted his attorney Mr. Cor Merx before deciding to go public with his story in 2013 – said that UP-leader Heyliger was very angry when Illidge left the coalition. In the 2010 elections, Illidge won 593 votes on the ticket of the National Alliance, but declared himself soon independent and threw his support behind the combination of Heyliger’s UP and the Democratic Party. During the calypso coup in April of last year however, Illidge joined forces with former UP faction leader Romain Laville and former National Alliance MP Frans Richardson. The three independents dropped their support for the UP and formed a new coalition with the National Alliance and, again, the DP.
“Theo was very angry and he spoke with many people about this, also with me. He said he would do everything to correct this so that he could return to politics. First he attempted to buy back Romain Laville for, according to me, $135,000 and when that did not work he came to ask me for a favor.”
Yesterday, Van den Heuvel referred again to “somebody high up in politics” in court, but he refrained from calling Heyliger by name. He also once more explained the video: “We went to the prosecutor’s office immediately to explain it, but they did not want to listen; they wanted to begin an investigation. I always spoke with Patrick about politics – also about schools and about uniforms.”
“I took my oath of office very serious,” Illidge told the court. “I told Van den Heuvel that I would see if I could get any information from the minister of tourism and economic affairs (about business permits – ed.). Why did that have to take so long?”
Illidge said he had seen a sewing center for school uniforms in Panama and that he had discussed this idea with Van den Heuvel too.
After all these years, Illidge still feels that he has been treated unfairly. “When you are dealt a blow like this it does not sit well,” he said. “I am out of work because of this stuff. I respect the prosecutor’s office but I did my work with respect and I want to be vindicated of this charge.”
Van den Heuvel acknowledged that things don’t look good on the video where he hands money to Illidge. “That was the purpose,” he said. “It looks like bribery but it wasn’t.”
Manager Krijn van der Brug feels that the charge against him for trafficking in women is unjustified. “I did not do anything wrong. I am not going to work for a monthly salary if I run the risk of being accused of trafficking in women. This situation has been in existence since 1955. If this is trafficking in women, then why are all the clubs still open?”
Van der Brug takes the charge of trafficking in women not lightly: “It creates the impression that you take away the passports of these women and that you are maiking a lot of money. Every day I am thinking: what did I do wrong? I did not make any money from this. There is a dark cloud hanging over my head and I did nothing wrong.”
Van den Heuvel said that he spends a lot of time in the Netherlands because he does not feel all that welcome anymore in St. Maarten since the court case. “I have never done anything to cheat the tax inspectorate and I have never done anything against the law; absolutely not.”
Illidge said that the court case has had an enormous impact on his family. “I cannot describe in words the damage this has done to me. My wife works but I don’t work anymore. I don’t wish this on any man, but I have confidence in the justice system. It is in your hands.”
But all the pleas of the defendants fell on deaf ears with the solicitor-general, who asked the court to confirm the verdicts handed down by the Court in First Instance in 2015. He said that the prosecution agrees with the arguments the lower court used to dismiss defense arguments.
While manager Van der Brug followed all the rules set by the government for bringing prostitutes to the island, the solicitor-general bypassed that fact by referring to the definition of trafficking in women in the criminal code.
The Court in First Instance said in its 2015 ruling that a punishable form of trafficking in women must contain an involuntary component in the process of recruiting, transporting or kidnapping prostitutes. In other words: women have to be brought to the island against their will for a job in the prostitution. Since that component is missing, Van der Brug got off light with a conditional prison sentence.
The solicitor-general concluded that the manager played a crucial role in the process of bringing women from the Dominican Republic to St. Maarten.
About Patrick Illidge, the solicitor-general said that he gave Lunteren NV a preferential treatment in exchange for money. The prosecution considers the defense argument that the money was repayment of a loan to be “a spasmodic attempt to disintegrate the evidence for corruption.”
With the exception of the charges of membership of a criminal organization and of letting prostitutes work without proper permits, the solicitor-general considers all other charges against Van den Heuvel proven. They include forgery (the use of a forged rent agreement), bribing Illidge, money laundering (by using company funds for private purposes), trafficking in women and fiscal offenses (intentionally not, or too late, submitting returns for profit tax and submitting too low returns for turnover between 2008 and 2011.
Attorney Geert Hatzmann asked the court to acquit his client Van der Brug. Saying that there is no proof of exploitation and that this ought to result in declaring the prosecution inadmissible.
“For more than fifty years the government has considered prostitution in a positive light; it served the safety of local women and the government earned a lot of money from the permits.”
Hatzmann furthermore said that the women who came to work in Bada Bing were not under duress. “They wanted to make money fast. It is not like the Dominican Republic is a Third World country where women die of starvation. They made good money here and they did not consider themselves to be victims.”