Lawyers ‘shop’ for witnesses at start of Bada Bing appeals

PHILIPSBURG–The appeals in the Bada Bing case involving bribery, trafficking of women and tax evasion kicked-off Thursday with a preliminary hearing during which the defence lawyers submitted to the Joint Court a list of some twenty witnesses for questioning.

Former Member of Parliament Patrick Illidge (50), Bada Bing owner and owner and director of holding company Lunteren N.V. Jaap van den Heuvel (50) and Bada Bing manager Krijn van der Brug (42) all filed appeals as they claim to be innocent.

Van den Heuvel and Van der Brug vented their anger and frustration with the case and with their convictions. Both men believe they have been “dragged through the mud,” they told the Court.

In an emotional statement, Illidge said he had been “damaged” by this case, as his political career was effectively over. “It was a political case from day one,” he said. “It hurts. My career is broken. That is why I disagree with the verdict and seek redress, and say the Prosecutor’s Office is wrong.”

The Court of First Instance convicted Van den Heuvel on March 6 to 42 months, 12 of which were suspended, with two years’ probation. He was found guilty of bribing Illidge, money-laundering, tax evasion, trafficking of women and forgery of a commercial lease agreement.

His manager Van der Brug was sentenced to nine months suspended with two years’ probation and 240 hours of community service for involvement in the trafficking of women.

Illidge was sentenced to 18 months, six of which were suspended, with two years’ probation. The Court of First Instance also revoked his right to be elected and banned him from holding public office for five years.

Lunteren N.V. was ordered to pay NAf. 1.5 million in fines for tax evasion, money-laundering and trafficking of women.

Attorneys Cor Merx, Eric Jansen, Geert Hatzmann and Ralph Richardson submitted a long list of witnesses for the defence to shed new light on the allegations.

“We were very shocked by the judgment of the Court of First Instance, which considered women-trafficking at Bada Bing proven because poor ladies from the Dominican Republic were exploited,” Merx said, speaking on behalf of his colleagues.

He said they were all “very exasperated” that the five women in question had been interrogated by the police, after which they had been flown out of the country immediately, rendering it impossible for the defence to question them as well.

He called on the Court to hear the women via video-conferencing, because all but one of them had given positive statements about their life and work at the adult-entertainment centre.

“They have not been forced or exploited and earned well under good working conditions,” Merx said, in pointing out that the Judge had taken only incriminating elements from the women’s statements.

He also called for the hearing of member of the Gentlemen’s Club of brothel owners Etienne Meyers, who also was a member of a committee investigating the industry, to describe the ”general atmosphere” in this line of business in St. Maarten.

Attorney Hatzmann also submitted a list of witnesses from a number of government agencies involved with the policy on prostitutes. These are to shed more light on the phenomenon of women-trafficking and exploitation in St. Maarten.

Among nine government officials requested to testify about the policy regarding, for instance, the issuing of work and residence permits to “exotic dancers” are former Minister of Justice Roland Duncan, Immigration and Border Protection Service Director Udo Aron, Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour Secretary-General Jorien Wuite and department heads.

In prefacing his pleadings, Hatzmann stated that the case against Van der Brug was based on “utter arbitrariness,” as only foreign women are employed at St. Maarten’s brothels since 1964. He dismissed statements by the Prosecutor’s Office that it had “accidentally stumbled” on the trafficking of women while investigating bribery.

Attorney Richardson focussed on the bribery case, which started after a video was made public in which it was shown that money changed hands between Illidge and Van den Heuvel. Both claim it concerned repayment of a personal loan of NAf. 50,000 and had nothing to do with bribery to obtain a business licence.

Richardson requested the hearing of expert witness Richard Scholte, who is to shed more light on Illidge’s financial situation, and called for the hearing of two civil servants at the Ministries of Justice and Economic Affairs to “clear up the confusion” concerning permits.

Fiscal lawyer Eric Jansen wants to call the investigating fiscal-forensic detective to the stand, as he allegedly made many mistakes that led him to the conclusion that tax fraud and money-laundering had been committed.

“We want to make a calculation exercise, because we do not understand the calculations made on client’s income tax. So many mistakes were made,” Jansen said.

Solicitor-General Taco Stein said the Prosecutor’s Office did not feel the need to hear witnesses. He recommended that the Appeals Court reject the lawyers’ requests, as he deemed these “unnecessary and needless” and insufficiently motivated. However, he did not object to the hearing of Jansen’s witness.

The Court will give its decision November 25.

Source: The Daily Herald Lawyers ‘shop’ for witnesses at start of Bada Bing appeals