Security was tight during the first day of hearings in the improvised courtroom at Belair Community Centre on Monday.
BELAIR–The Prosecutor’s Office demanded an unconditional prison term of three years for Dutch consultant R.M. (65), who is the crown witness and one of five suspects in the so-called “Larimar-I” investigations. The weeklong hearings in this case started at the highly-secured Belair Community Centre on Monday.
With a large number of police officers outside and inside the improvised courtroom, in which steel barriers separate the audience from the Court, the suspects and their lawyers, the proceedings started with the judge and the lawyers questioning the crown witness.
The “Larimar” investigation involves corruption, money-laundering and payment of bribes to former Island Council member, Member of Parliament (MP) and minister Theodore Heyliger and civil servants in St. Maarten by construction companies to be awarded a large number of projects. Heyliger is accused of receiving in total approximately US $4 million over a period of 15 years.
M. is charged with having played a crucial role in the scheme in paying bribes to Heyliger in his capacity of Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Development, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI and as an MP in August and September 2011. His companies Advanced Consultech SA and Caribbean Advice and Consultancy Ltd. allegedly paid Heyliger US $300,000 in connection with the purchase of a parcel of land, the so-called “Mullen” property.
The payments allegedly were made to persuade Heyliger to award government contracts to dredging company Devcon TCI Ltd. and construction companies Volker Construction International B.V. and Volker Stevin Caribbean N.V.
The Dutch consultant is also accused of having paid $850,000 in total to the above-mentioned companies and to construction companies Ballast Nedam International B.V. and Windward Roads (WWR) B.V. between August 23, 2006, and August 20, 2018.
He is also charged with money-laundering to the amount of almost NAf. 9 million, a crime he allegedly committed from January 1997.
The fourth and final charge in the indictment is the failure to file income, turnover and profit tax from August 2006 up to and including 2014.
M., whom the Prosecutor’s Office holds for one of the protagonists in this case about “deep-rooted” corruption in St. Maarten, confessed to the allegations but denied that he had been guilty of tax evasion.
The Court heard M. as a witness on Monday. The lawyers for the defence also fired a large number of questions at him.
M., who resided in St. Maarten from 1985 to 2017, told the court that he had ended up in a “moving train” after some “young and ambitious” politicians, among them the late Roy Marlin and Heyliger, obtained leading positions in the island government.
From that moment on, monies involved with the payment of consultancy fees for projects started ending up in politicians’ pockets. M. told the court he had won two to 2.5 per cent of the agreed project price. “Companies have never complained about the percentages at any time,” he said about that. The projects were mostly on behalf of the St. Maarten government.
At first, Heyliger and M. shared the paid consultancy fees on a 50-50 basis, but later on Heyliger received two-thirds and M. one third.
M. said that during a period of 10 years he had paid Heyliger dozens of payments of $10,000 or $20,000 each which were put in an envelope, wrapped in a newspaper and put in Heyliger’s car. The cash amounts were obtained via trust company Standard Trust STC. M. said Heyliger was very precise and had let him know when payments were $200 or $300 short.
‘Mr. 10 Per Cent’
M., who denied he had the nickname “Mr. 10 Per Cent”, said he had not left a paper trail. “You don’t put anything on paper about such matters,” he told Judge Stephan van Lieshout. However, he confessed that he had kept a notebook, but the relevant page in the book had been torn out and flushed down the toilet after the STC offices were searched.
Questioned by Heyliger’s lawyer Eldon “Peppie” Sulvaran about what the consultancy fees were specifically paid for, M. responded that nothing was wrong with his brain but that he had no recollection, or responded by saying that the nature of the consultancy was described in the contracts.
He said that “nobody” could go past Heyliger, because he had the “informal” power in government and in his party to get things done. “He had a position to make decisions and was one of the few with a political vision and he has done many good things for the island,” M. said.
Things went sour between the consultant and the politician over the causeway project because WWR did not want to pay the required consultancy fee.
“Theo’s word is law. If you did not cooperate you were boycotted. Nobody could bypass him. [Former harbour director Mark – Ed.] Mingo also had a strong position. Mingo and Heyliger had a good relationship. Theo’s power was unlimited. Mingo listened to Theo because he was appointed by him,” M. said.
He said Heyliger had kept demanding two per cent of the contract price for the causeway project, which the company involved did not want to pay, which led to the end of the business relationship between M. and Heyliger. The consultant told the court that he had decided to leave St. Maarten after he was threatened “with words.”
WWR executed a large number of building projects on the island. J.B.’s predecessor as company director was dismissed because he did not “function well,” according to M. J.B. replaced him, not to commit crimes, “but he did participate,” M. claimed.
However, M. does not have any records or third-party statements to sustain his claims. He said Heyliger had been in a position to blackmail WWR. “If he did not get his money, WWR did not get any work.”
Attorney-at-law Petra van Kampen said that based on factual knowledge her client M. had not spared himself in testifying to the alleged crimes.
“According to his co-suspects, he is the stumbling block and the source of all evil, but he has not provided statements about a fiction but about the existing truth,” his lawyer said. She pleaded for a milder judgement in claiming that more alleged facts were time-barred than the prosecutor had stated.
Attorney Paula Janssen focussed on the alleged tax crimes, which she said could not be proven because her client had not deliberately committed any of these crimes and had not been the actual perpetrator, because he had given his business administration into the hands of trust company STC.
The hearings will continue today, Tuesday, with the questioning of the other four suspects in this case, including R.E. (58) and G.P. (66).
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/three-years-demanded-for-larimar-case-crown-witness