Court hears first suspects in so-called ‘Emerald’ case

PHILIPSBURG–Construction company owner S.E.W. was the first of three suspects appearing in the Court of First Instance on Wednesday for their alleged roles in the so-called “Emerald case” involving the evasion of income- and turnover tax.

The suspicions are the result of an investigation by the anti-corruption unit TBO into alleged fraud and corruption committed at the Port of St. Maarten.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the suspects involved in this case had failed to report income of approximately US $8 million paid to their companies for activities on behalf of the Port, in particular between 2012 and 2016. The companies did not report these payments to the tax authorities, which is punishable by law.

According to calculations by the tax authorities, St. Maarten has reportedly lost more than NAF. 6 million in tax revenue, the Prosecutor’s Office claims.

The Emerald investigation started in April 2016 following reports in The Daily Herald and questions posed in Parliament about contracts signed between the then-new owners of Checkmate Security and Port St. Maarten.

W. (32) is charged with having been paid approximately US $950,000 for invoices sent to the Port. He had “deliberately” failed to file for income- and turnover tax for these amounts, the Prosecutor said.

In preliminary pleadings, attorney-at-law Shaira Bommel called on the Court to declare the Prosecutor’s case against her client inadmissible. The lawyer said the case was “premature,” as her client was involved in negotiations with the Tax Office to meet his obligations.

Bommel said her client had reached a settlement. However, she could not present the Court with any proof of payment, as the Receiver’s Office was closed Monday and Tuesday due to the landfill fire.

The lawyer also said she had been “surprised” by the photograph printed on the front page of Monday’s edition of The Daily Herald, showing Judge of Instruction John Schols, Prosecutor Joris Beliën, three TBO officers and a Court recorder having dinner at a local restaurant on January 17.

Bommel said the “cosy get-together” made her question the impartiality of the investigating judge in this case. “In a small society such as St. Maarten one should be extra careful and avoid the impression that criminal cases are being discussed in small circles.”
Bommel said the case against her client merely concerned a fiscal crime. She denied that he had forged invoices, as was stated in a press release issued by the Prosecutor’s Office.
W. was arrested in March 2017 and started arrangements to settle the matter with the tax office three months later, the lawyer said in stating her client made an appeal for the so-called “repentance regulation” (inkeerregeling) for taxpayers who had failed to file for taxes, but were willing to settle the matter out of Court.

The lawyer also contested the alleged amount, saying this was merely an “estimation.” She said her client had made a start with getting his company administration in order, after he had reached a settlement with the Tax Department and had paid NAf. 22,000 in turnover-tax arrears.

Source: The Daily Herald