Court deals with final cases in three days of Emerald-hearings

PHILIPSBURG–The Court of First Instance on Thursday dealt with two more cases in the last of three days of hearings in the so-called “Emerald case” involving the evasion of income and turnover tax by seven owners of one-man construction companies.

The Prosecutor called for a prison sentence of 15 months and a conditional fine of NAf. 250,000, on two years’ probation, for fireman and construction-company owner K.G.F. The Prosecutor considered it proven that the 55-year-old man had failed to file taxes over the amount of US $891,901 between October 2013 and December 2017.

F. confessed he had provided at least two workers for primarily cleaning operations for the Harbour Group of Companies. He said he had been paid by cheque by a man named “Randy,” who met him at the Harbour security checkpoint, as he was not authorised to enter the premises.

In explaining the procedure, F. said he had cashed the cheque at his bank and deposited the amount in his bank account. He would then keep $1,000 for the transaction and return the rest of the money to Randy, who paid for personnel and equipment.

He said he had only made one invoice to the amount of $24,000 on April 4, 2017, but not any others. The other invoices were made by Randy, F. claimed.

He was pressed hard by the Judge and the Prosecutor to give more details about this man, such as his last name and telephone number, but he said he could not. He told the Court he had met Randy for the first time after he had submitted a request for a job at the Harbour with Harbour Group of Companies Director Mark Mingo, who is also a suspect in the investigation.

F. said he had received a phone call from Randy in which he was informed that the Harbour did not have much work available, only temporary jobs.

“I was called back a couple of months later and was asked if I still had workers, which I did. I sent two boys to the Harbour for cleaning,” he told the Court. “When Randy called again I went to the Harbour to pick up the cheque, cashed it at the bank, kept $1,000 and returned the rest to Randy.”

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, Randy does not exist. In the Prosecution’s opinion F. received the invoices and cheques from Checkmate Security Director O.A, who is also a suspect in the Emerald case.

F. said he knew O.A. from Sucker Garden, but had only spoken to him when he received the final cheque in April 2017. “I did not receive money from O.A.,” he said.

According to the Prosecutor, O.A. had told investigators he had provided information to a local accountant, who had made the invoices for him.

The accountant was heard as a witness and confirmed that F.’s company KG Construction was one of the companies she had invoiced based on O.A.’s instructions.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the Tax Department has lost NAf. 756.618 in income due to defendant’s failure to file income and turnover tax. The suspect said he had filed income tax for his regular job as a fireman.

Questioned about the amount mentioned in an invoice for the construction of two parking spaces at Walther Plantz Square, F. said: “Everything here in St. Maarten costs $1 million or more, whether it’s worth it, or not.”

In the Prosecutor’s opinion F. had been paid $900,000 for work that was never done. “A very strange way of operation,” the Prosecutor said.

However, the defendant maintained that he had never received such high amounts. “Five months after Hurricane Irma I can still not repair the roof. Where is that money? It’s not with me,” he said in maintaining that he had received only $1,000 per invoice.

Through F.’s actions the Tax Department had lost considerable income, which could have been used to finance post-Irma cleaning operations and construction, the Prosecutor said.

“The money should have gone to Government to pay extra civil servants, to build schools, to install streetlights and to improve roads. But the defendant and his colleagues thought the money belonged to them,” the Prosecutor said in calling for a sentence equal to his demand in the other cases.

The fireman of 30 years said the case against him was built on allegations made by other suspects in the Emerald case.

“But not everybody did the same thing. I have no money, or I would have hired the best lawyer on the island. I never defrauded the island of St. Maarten. I have nothing. Come check my car, my house, my clothes and my shoes. I swear on my wife, my children and my mother that I don’t have that money,” the defendant said in his final words.

The Court will present its decision on February 22.

The case against suspect S.E.W. (32) was postponed until March 27 to allow his lawyer time to provide additional information from her client’s business administration and from the Receiver’s Office.

Source: The Daily Herald