Pro-forma hearing in Ostrich case May 17

PHILIPSBURG–A pro-forma hearing in the investigation code-named “Ostrich” will be held on Wednesday, May 17, the Judge at the Court of First Instance decided after ample consultations with the Prosecutor and the lawyers representing the six suspects in this case.

The lengthy investigation, which has been ongoing since April 2016, concerns the illegal admittance of foreign nationals, mainly from Jamaica, Haiti and Guyana, by members of the Immigration and Border Protection Service. Lawyer B.B.B. (41) is also suspected of involvement in the scheme.

The defendants are suspected of human trafficking, bribery and of accepting bribes and of abusing their authority as civil servants. They were arrested by members of the Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling Unit in conjunction with the National Detective Agency. They are also charged with membership in a criminal organisation, the Prosecutor said.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the Prosecutor’s Office requested to continue the case on June 14 to handle the lawyers’ requests for additional investigations and the hearing of witnesses, but the Court decided to speed up the handling of the case, by setting a date for such a hearing in two weeks’ time.

All lawyers said that the voluminous case file, which includes 12 separate cases, prevented them to properly prepare their clients’ cases and formulate requests for the hearing of witnesses.

The attorneys devoted considerably more time to their requests to have their clients’ pre-trial detention lifted. Especially attorney Sjamira Roseburg pointed out that “double standards” are being applied as her client D.M.M.’s (33) pre-trial detention was suspended, whereas client K.L.M.B. (34) is still detained.

Suspects A.A.D. (33) and J.M. (37) are also still behind bars, while B.M.B.’s (44) and lawyer B.B.B.’s pre-trial detention was lifted.

Roseburg reiterated statements made during a previous hearing in this case in which she said that the Prosecutor’s Office was giving the impression that it worked with double standards. “In similar cases the detention of suspects was also suspended,” Roseburg pointed out.

Among these cases was Udo Aron, who as Head of Immigration and Border Control escorted an undocumented woman from the Dominican Republic into St. Maarten. Aron was held for one day. “Does the Prosecutor’s Office have double standards and is it about who you are and who you know?” the lawyer queried.

Roseburg said pre-trial detention was a “traumatising and stigmatising” measure, which is “almost constantly” being imposed on crime suspects in St. Maarten. She claimed, however, that there were no concrete facts or circumstances indicating that the release of her client would lead to a “shocked legal order.”

The Prosecutor refuted statements that the defence lawyers would not have had sufficient time to prepare their cases as the case files were presented to them more than five weeks ago. They were just using it to delay the case, he said.

The Prosecutor said the requests to lift or suspend the pre-trial detention of those who are still behind bars should be turned down. He said there is extensive evidence concerning their involvement in the alleged crimes based on their own (incriminating) statements, those of other witnesses, on tapped telephone conversations and on the fact that the persons they allegedly admitted to St. Maarten had actually been residing illegally here.

He said comparing this case with others was the same as “comparing apples with pears.”

The Judge turned down the requests to suspend or lift the defendants’ pre-trial detention as there are strong suspicions against all defendants. “It would be going too far to state that the legal order would not be shocked about the fact that civil servants allegedly broke the rules for profit,” he said.

Weighing the interests of the suspects against those of society, the Judge said that in this stage of the investigation the interests of society prevailed because the suspects were not yet detained for a long time.

Source: The Daily Herald