Joint Court hears appeals in Masbangu investigation

PHILIPSBURG–Police Officers A.R.W.M. and C.J.L.C. appeared in front of the three-judge panel of the Joint Court of Justice on Thursday for the appeal hearing in the “Masbangu” investigation involving the buying and selling of votes on behalf of United People’s (UP) party during the September 17, 2010, parliamentary election.

The Solicitor General asked for three months suspended, on two years’ probation and 150 hours of community service.
The Court of First Instance on September 14, 2016, acquitted the four suspects in the investigation of all charges.
The Prosecutor’s Office had called for a suspended prison sentence of three months, with 150 hours of community service and deprivation of the right to vote for A.R.W.M.
For C.J.L.C., the Prosecutor had demanded three years suspended, on two years’ probation, with deprivation of the right to vote and 180 hours of community service.
The proceedings against two other suspects in this case, alleged vote buyer R.H. and Officer of the Voluntary Corps of St. Maarten VKS R.C.H.J. will take place on Wednesday, April 12.
R.H.’s case was postponed as he did not have sufficient time to confer with his lawyer to prepare his case, R.C.H.J. did not have a lawyer present. He will be provided with a so-called pro-bono lawyer.
Attorneys Cor Merx for C.J.L.C. and Cindy Marica for A.R.W.M. both pleaded to declare the Prosecutor’s cases against their clients inadmissible and for their clients’ acquittal of all charges.
The Court of First Instance acquitted all suspects of (attempted) bribery. To consider bribery proven in this case it needs to be ascertained whether an agreement was made between sellers and buyer on the way in which the sellers were to exercise their right to vote in the election.
The Judge of the lesser court did find it proven that money was paid out by R.H. to the officers. Each of them received an envelope containing US $300, with the apparent intention to influence their “voting behaviour.” However, it could not be ascertained, the Judge stated, that payments were made for a “reciprocal service,” namely a vote for a certain party, or that attempts were made to reach such an agreement.
All attorneys for the defence had pointed out that the distribution of “paraphernalia” and goods and services to people during election time was part of Caribbean culture and pleaded for their clients’ acquittals. The Court accepted the lawyers’ statements that this habit of influencing voters was “common practice” in St. Maarten.
“It can be argued that this practice is highly undesirable and seriously undermines democracy,” the Judge stated, but this did not automatically mean that the charges against suspects could be legally and convincingly proven. All suspects emphatically denied any agreement or that any conditions were attached to the payments.
All of this, and the fact that it could not be ascertained whether the suspects were eligible voters, led the lesser court to the conclusion that (attempted) bribery could not be proven.
Before the Court of Appeals attorney Merx stated that the indictment was “sloppily assembled.” He further said it could not be ascertained whether C.J.L.C. was an eligible voter, or that he actually was a civil servant.
“My client did not have to do anything in violation of his obligations. He does not even know R.H. and besides it could not be verified that he was a UP party official. No agreements were made about the execution of my client’s right to vote,” said Merx.
“Where is the evidence that my client accepted money or even provided his personal information?” said Merx in calling for his client’s dismissal of prosecution, or his acquittal for lack of evidence. The Joint Court will give its verdict May 3.

Source: The Daily Herald