PHILIPSBURG–A 44-year-old man arrested in St. Eustatius for the alleged laundering of money was acquitted by the Court of First Instance Wednesday for lack of evidence.
The case was heard in St. Maarten because O.C.O. is currently detained here for violation of the National Opium Ordinance. For this crime he was sentenced on December 20, 2017, to 24 months, 14 of which were suspended.
In the case heard on Wednesday he was accused of laundering sums of US $6,565 and $3,000 between April 14, 2016, and April 6, 2017.
The Prosecutor’s Office suspects that the money was obtained in the drug trade. O. vehemently denied this and claimed he had earned the money by digging for gold in the Surinamese jungle.
However, he confessed he had been involved in the drug trade to the Netherlands in 1993 and 1997, “but never since,” he said.
“I did not obtain the money illegally,” he told the Judge. “I wanted to sell the gold here in St. Maarten. Due to tourism the gold price here is higher than in Suriname.”
He confessed he had $6,565 with him in a brown envelope in his suitcase, but said he had no knowledge of the other amount.
The Prosecutor called for acquittal for the $3,000, but found the laundering of $6,565 proven. “It concerns a well-known drug smuggler who frequently travels through the region and who provides contradictory statements about the origin of the money.”
On inquiry it appeared that the defendant is not known as a gold miner in Suriname, stated the Prosecutor, who, therefore, concluded the money had a criminal background.
“ I understand that the suspicions and my client’s drug history work against him, but he has always stated that he has nothing to do with drugs,” attorney-at-law Ellen Knoppel said.
She submitted a document from a gold transaction office, dated March 13, 2017, which stated that O. was indeed a registered gold miner. The Court accepted the document as legal evidence, which led to the defendant’s full acquittal.
However, O. remains behind bars as he still has to sit out the 10-month sentence imposed in December 2017.
The Prosecutor’s Office may file for appeal against the acquittal.