PHILIPSBURG–Former politician Maria Buncamper-Molanus (51) and her husband, high-ranking civil servant at the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Claudius
Buncamper (55), were convicted of filing falsified tax returns but were acquitted of fraud with authentic deeds, the Court of Appeals stated Monday.
For this crime the couple were sentenced to payment of NAf. 25,000 fines, or 120 days in case of non-compliance. They will also both have to do 240 hours of community service.
The Solicitor-General had called on the Appeals Court to confirm the verdicts of the Court of First Instance, which sentenced the Buncampers on April 7, 2016, to 12 months suspended, on three years’ probation and 240 hours of community service.
Reports surfaced in the media late 2010 that former Commissioner and Minister Buncamper-Molanus and her husband were allegedly involved in a dubious land deal. More than five years later, two other suspects in this case were found guilty and have been irrevocably convicted in the meantime.
Notary Francis Gijsbertha, who facilitated the forgery and drafted forged documents, was sentenced to 240 hours of community service. St. Maarten Building Supplies (SBS) N.V. owner Ivan Havertong was sentenced to three months suspended, on two years’ probation and 120 hours of community service.
The alleged figurehead, or “straw man” in this case, Eco Green N.V. director T.O.W., was acquitted of all charges, as it could not be “unequivocally” established that he had been aware of the false nature of documents he was requested to sign, or that he had been cooperating in a “shadow construction” to evade taxes. The lesser Court also did not establish that W. should have known that he had been cooperating with illegal schemes.
The issue revolves around a piece of government-owned land on Soualiga Road which the Buncampers obtained in 2005. At first, they rented the land from the Island Territory, but in 2008 they obtained the property on long-lease. Several conditions were attached to the lease, which included stipulations that the land could not be subleased or made available to third parties. Nevertheless, the Buncampers did exactly that.
Whereas the renting of leasehold land to third parties is not permitted, the Buncampers wanted to make a profit from the rental construction in such a way that they would not have to pay taxes.
They made the property available against payment to SBS, which used it for the storage of building materials. As the couple did not want to pay any tax on their additional income, a solution was needed and found with the notary’s aid in establishing “dummy holding” Eco Green. Although on paper W. was the official director, the case file showed that the Buncampers were the factual owners.
The Prosecutor’s Office estimated they had earned approximately NAf. 635,000, plus a package of shares that was sold for US $1,145,000, and in using the constructions they had evaded payment of more than NAf. 80,000 in taxes. The Buncampers may therefore also be facing dispossession claims on these “illegally obtained assets,” the Prosecutor said during hearings that took place late 2015 and early 2016.
The Court of Appeals found the Buncampers guilty of having actually given direction to the intentionally incorrect and incomplete filing of profit tax returns by Eco Green between 2009 and 2011.
The Court of Appeals derives their intention to file incorrect and incomplete income tax returns from the circumstance that they, in consultation with notary Gijsbertha, knowingly and willingly set up a financial construction in which the rental income was no longer personally enjoyed by the Buncampers but by the company they controlled.
By not passing on these rental incomes to their tax adviser, who filled in the profit tax returns for Eco Green, the Buncampers had the intention of making these incorrect and incomplete declarations, according to the Court.
The Court held it particularly against former politician Maria Buncamper that she had failed to set the right example and had made St. Maarten suffer financially.
Concerning the financial and social damage caused by defendants, the Court of Appeals considered fines with community service more suitable punishments than prison sentences. In sentencing, the Court also took into account that the Buncampers are first offenders and have suffered from negative publicity about this case since 2010.