Fireman and police officer sentenced in Emerald case

PHILIPSBURG–The Court of First Instance sentenced police officer Akeem A. (28) and fireman Keith F. (53) on Thursday for the deliberate filing of incorrect and incomplete income and turnover tax from January 2014 until December 2017.

The suspects are two of seven persons summoned to appear in Court for hearing in the so-called Emerald investigation February 7-9. All these suspects have sole ownership of construction companies involved with construction and clean-up activities for St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies for which they had failed to correctly or completely file for taxes.

The policeman, who had not come clean, according to the Court, was given a suspended prison sentence of 12 months, on three years’ probation, with 240 hours of community service.

The firefighter, who had provided statements, received six months suspended, on three years’ probation, with 120 hours of community service.
Regarding the community service, the Court deemed it advisable that this take place in the context of the reconstruction of St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma.

In both cases, the Prosecutor had demanded unconditional prison sentences of 15 months, and conditional fines of NAf. 250,000.
The Court said it understood the Prosecutor’s demand, as tax had been evaded on a large scale and because “important community interests” had been violated.
“That is extra bitter at a time when Country St. Maarten is trying to overcome the devastating effect of Hurricane Irma,” the Judge said.
On the other hand, the Court considered that in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom suspects are seldom summoned to appear before a Judge solely for tax fraud.

“This has changed since financial-research capacity has been made available to tackle this type of business. The tradition of non-prosecution has thus been broken. At the time these tax crimes were committed this tradition still existed, and, therefore, unconditional prison sentences are less obvious,” the Court stated in its verdict.

In the Court’s opinion the policeman’s and firefighter’s cases could not be considered exceptional. Both have no criminal records and the Court believed that they had only kept for themselves a fraction of the money involved.

The cases against five other suspects, including the case against United St. Maarten Party Member of Parliament (MP) Chanel Brownbill, were suspended until March 29.
The Prosecutor’s Office is accusing Brownbill of having failed to file income and turnover tax for US $1,262,078 in invoices paid by the Harbour Group of Companies to Country Construction company’s bank account. These payments were made between 2009 and 2016, the Prosecutor said.

The case against Brownbill was postponed, granting attorney Safira Ibrahim time to add documents from her client’s accountant to the case file.

The main suspects in the Emerald investigation are Harbour Group of Companies Director Mark Mingo and the policeman’s brother Checkmate Security Director O.A.
The investigations into these two suspects are still ongoing. They will be summoned to appear in Court later.

The cases against S.R.A.D. and K.G.L. were postponed until March 27 because their lawyer reportedly had acute health issues related to the landfill fire.

Source: The Daily Herald