PHILIPSBURG–Ten days after his arrest, United St. Maarten (US) party leader Frans Richardson was released from pre trial detention on Friday– three days before the parliamentary elections, which he is contesting as the number one candidate on the US slate.
He remains a suspect in the “Squid” and “Emerald” investigations. In a press release issued after his release, Richardson’s attorney Sjamira Roseburg of Sulvaran & Peterson Law Firm, said her client’s detention was not necessary at this time and indicated that his detention seemed to be aimed at undermining his campaign and intended to influence the outcome of Monday’s snap parliamentary elections.
“The investigation has been running since 2016 and the co-suspects are already free. There was never any need for the Public Prosecutor to hold on to my client. Not in 2016 and not in 2017. Suddenly 12 days before the election this was necessary?” she said in a statement.
Richardson was arrested on Wednesday, February 14, by the National Detectives as suspect in two investigations. Investigation “Squid,” concerns an accusation of “vote buying” during the 2016 Parliamentary elections and in the “Emerald” investigation. Richardson is accused of accepting US $370,000 in bribes and is accused of tax evasion.
In both investigations, his home was searched on Wednesday, February 14.
Richardson, who is a member of parliament has not made a statement about any of these allegations, the Prosecutors Office said.
In the “Squid” and “Emerald” investigations, a number of suspects and witnesses will be interrogated by the investigating team and investigating judge. In the “Emerald” investigation several individual cases will be heard in court.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office said it will be “extra vigilant” during Monday’s election for signs of vote buying and selling. Persons with information on these activities are asked to contact the National Detective Agency (Landsrecherche Sint Maarten) – if preferably anonymously at telephone number: 522-5810.
In the meantime, Roseburg said the detention of someone is considered as a last resort and should be strictly necessary. “Knowing that the situation in the Point Blanche Prison is far from optimal and that other means are available, the detention of MP Frans Richardson was not necessary in the viewpoint of the defence – there were other means other than the imprisonment of Mr. Richardson,” she contended.
“The Public Prosecutor has decided to release Mr. Richardson today, because they also know that if they wish to retain Mr. Richardson for a longer period, they must first have an order of persecution from the Court of Appeal under Article 2 of the National Ordinance on Persecution of Political Authorities. The Appeal Court will first look at the case and then decide whether there is any need to give this order.”
“The public prosecutor already saw that it would never get that far and decided to release my client today (Friday). However, the same prosecutor also stated last Friday that he did not have the intention to keep Mr. Richardson for further custody after the 8 days that had been given to him. The defence then must ask itself why was there any reason and necessity to keep my client in detention for those few days? This seems, according to my client, to purely influence of the upcoming elections that is only three days away.”
She said that by holding Richardson for 10 days, it seems that an attempt has been made to undermine his campaign. “The investigation for which Mr. Richardson was arrested concern investigations from 2016. What was the need to hold Mr. Richardson up for two years later? It seems that everyone here on Sint Maarten can be arrested, detained whether it is necessary or not? Frans Richardson is a Member of Parliament and a party leader. This situation has brought a lot of negative publicity for the island of St. Maarten, while this was never necessary. Mr. Richardson could also be called upon, as is done more often. If the authorities needed my client, he would have volunteered for possible interrogations, while retaining his rights.”
The attorney said holding a representative of the people in an investigation that has been running for more than one year, should not be taken lightly. “A detention will always have negative shadow effects… The European Court of Human Rights has already spoken about this on several occasions. The Public Prosecutor will not be able to convince anyone that it could not have acted differently concerning the detention of a party leader, just before the elections, in a crowded prison that is about to collapse. The defence can only hope that the objective of the Public Prosecutor is not to improperly influence the forthcoming elections on February 26th 2018.”
“The Public Prosecutor could have also chosen to wait until after the election, because now they have the appearance of being against it. Again, the investigation has been going on for quite some time,” she contended. “Whatever may be true, Mr. Richardson is now more than ever convinced that St. Maarten must regain control of the autonomous powers, including justice, as quickly as possible so that the St. Maarten population can monitor the exercising of these powers because with the current consensus laws of the Kingdom, St. Maarten has no control over the exercising of judicial powers.”