Silvio Matser up for retrial in 2014 vote-buying case | THE DAILY HERALD

PHILIPSBURG–Former Member of Parliament Silvio Matser’s (51) appeal against the judgment rendered in absentia in the 2014 vote-buying case will be heard by the Court of First Instance on Wednesday, September 5, at 9:00am.

On February 21, Matser was convicted to a prison sentence of eight months, two of which were suspended, on two years’ probation. He was found guilty of buying votes among eligible inmates of the Pointe Blanche prison while campaigning for the August 2014 parliamentary election as a candidate on the United People’s (UP) party slate. He was also banned from running as a candidate for five years.

Investigations into the results of the 2014 election revealed that UP leader Theo Heyliger was the biggest vote-getter of his party in 19 of the 20 voting districts, except in district #19 – the Pointe Blanche prison – where Matser attained the highest number of preferential votes.

Public hearing in this case took place in September, October and November 2016 and in January 2018, but Matser did not appear for any of these hearings.

Suspects of a crime are not obligated to appear for hearings but do have the right to be present and are entitled to appeal a sentence. Matser’s lawyer Cor Merx had called upon the Court to declare his client’s subpoena null and void but did not plead on Matser’s behalf during the January 31, 2018 hearing.

On appeal, the former MP may be risking a higher sentence, as the Prosecutor’s Office had called for a two-year prison sentence and a five-year ban from being elected.

The Court said in February that vote-buying was a serious crime aimed at the “foundation of parliamentary democracy.” Voters were influenced to elect the most well-to-do, instead of casting their votes for the best or the most convincing candidate. This “tarnished the reputation of the democratic order in Country St. Maarten,” the Judge said.

Matser’s co-suspect Pointe Blanche prison Interim Director Edward Rohan was sentenced to 160 days, 80 of which were suspended, on two years’ probation. The Court found him guilty of providing Matser with a list of eligible voters.

The Prosecutor had called for a prison sentence of nine months, three of which were to be suspended, on three years’ probation, during the January 31 hearing.

Rohan was found guilty of providing Matser with a list containing the names of 80 eligible detainees among the prison population of 135. In his turn, Matser, aided by inmates, bribed these detainees with $100 payments to vote for him. The monies were distributed by one of Matser’s campaign-team members, the Judge said.

One of the inmate aids, Edeson Fleming, was found guilty of being an accomplice to the scheme. The Court found it proven he had recruited votes among fellow-prisoners, who received US $100 in canteen money from Matser in exchange for a vote. He was sentenced to six months, three of which were suspended, on two years’ probation, whereas the Prosecution had called for six months unconditional.

Matser, whom the Court held for the main perpetrator in this case, received the maximum sentence of eight months for election fraud, but was acquitted of membership in a criminal organisation. The Court also did not find it proven that Matser had promised licences or jobs to inmates, for lack of evidence.

Under the new electoral law, which came into effect in 2015, electoral bribery carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment, which was equal to the Prosecutor’s demand in Matser’s case.

Source: The Daily Herald