Parties involved with the Prosecutor’s request for a civil inquiry into the Port of St. Maarten gathering outside the Courthouse on Thursday, with Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Stuart Johnson at right.
PHILIPSBURG–It is incorrect that St. Maarten Harbour Holding Company (SMHHC) NV has not done anything and does not want anything to do with the Prosecutor’s Office’s request for a civil inquiry into the state of affairs at the port, attorney-at-law Chris de Bres said during Thursday’s hearing on the request (see related story).
Speaking on behalf of the company, which was represented by interim port managers Ton van Kooten and Richard van der Mark, Supervisor Board members and shareholder representative Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Stuart Johnson on behalf of Country St. Maarten, De Bres said a civil inquiry would be very damaging to the harbour.
“Such an investigation could take up to three years and could lead to bankruptcy of the cornerstone of the island’s economy,” De Bres said.
The port cannot afford a time- and energy-consuming investigation into “possible” wrongdoings in the past, which, he said, “is not in the public interest.”
De Bres said the figures presented by the Prosecutor’s Office are incorrect. He said Port of St. Maarten would have made profits in 2017 and 2018, were it not that Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage to the port facilities.
The lawyer said that in the meantime the port has appointed new management and has taken care of the backlog in annual accounts.
SMHHC’s legal representative countered statements made by the Solicitor General pertaining to “window dressing,” and said the port had in the meantime introduced a corporate governance policy and had appointed a compliance officer and a confidential councillor, who are by no means “little paper tigers,” as De Bres put it.
He also said that after the Emerald-case emerged, pertaining to US $12 million fraud involving Port Chief Executive Mark Mingo, surveillance company Checkmate Security and a number of one-man construction companies, the procedure for the tendering of smaller projects below the amount of NAf. 50,000 has been tightened.
De Bres said he was missing “the smoking gun” in the criminal investigation against Mingo, who has been suspended on the Court’s order since June. He is still receiving his salaries.
Getting rid of the past should be done via the criminal justice process rather than with an inquiry, De Bres said. The Prosecutor’s Office wants a broad and extensive port investigation over a longer period of time. “Are we talking about a civil inquiry here or about a criminal case under guise of an inquiry? It seems as if the Prosecutor’s Office wants to use the inquiry as a drag net in search for more facts,” the lawyer said in response.
De Bres said the harbour has been providing the Prosecutor’s Office with information and documents for two years. “The harbour does not have to do this endlessly, it’s way too busy for that,” he said.
The lawyer denied that the port has played any role in the bribery of politicians by construction companies with the tendering of projects or the purchase of products via a strawman. “Backdoor policies cannot be traced back via the harbour books,” he insisted.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/83644-harbour-holding-denies-it-sits-still-and-does-nothing