Prosecutor’s Office orders investigation into ‘vote fraud’

PHILIPSBURG–The Prosecutor’s Office has ordered what it calls a “fact-finding” investigation into “vote fraud” after receiving indications that voters may have been bribed to cast their votes for a particular party or person.

The electorate in St. Maarten went to the polls on September 26 to elect a new Parliament.

“In light of this new development the Prosecutor’s Office calls on anyone who has information about any suspicious situation concerning vote-buying that may have taken place, or who was approached to accept money or any other type of goods or favours, to please contact the National Detectives Agency (Landsrecherche),” the Office said.

The Agency can be contacted at tel. 526-2242. All information will be handled confidentially, the Prosecutor’s Office said.

The Prosecutor’s Office had told The Daily Herald just after the elections that it would not be pursuing new vote-buying cases. Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Gino Bernadina, when asked by this newspaper, said no official complaints relating to vote-buying of any kind had been filed after the recent election.

The Office had issued a lengthy statement in August warning voters about the penalties if a person is charged with bribery. Bribery in voting is punishable under Article 2:44 of the Penal Code of St. Maarten (previously article 132 of the Penal Code of the Netherlands Antilles) and the penalty was increased recently to imprisonment of two years. It is also possible that a person convicted of bribery can be deprived of certain rights, possibly including the right to vote or to stand for election.

Bribery, according to the Penal Code, is sufficiently proven if parties agree on not voting or voting in a particular way by accepting a gift or a promise; it is as though people reach a verbal agreement. Both the person making the gift or promise and the one who accepts the offer are punishable by law. It does not matter if the gift or promise is not redeemed afterwards or if the actual voting occurs differently than agreed on.

An attempted bribe is also punishable by law. This is the case when a gift or promise is offered, but the other party does not accept it. Both the completed offence and the attempt thereto must be based on an individual “favouring” of the voter or his/her representative.

Needless to say, “campaign materials” such as pens, buttons, T-shirts, etc. with the logo of a political party are not considered commitments to any individual.

In the past, around elections, the Prosecutor’s Office received indications that voters had been bribed to cast their votes for a particular party or person. This affects the free and fair conduct of the election.

Source: The Daily Herald