Two ‘Octopus’ suspects facing suspended sentences and fines | THE DAILY HERALD

PHILIPSBURG–Two suspects in the “Octopus case” involving the buying and selling of votes inside the Pointe Blanche prison during the parliamentary election of August 2014 are facing three-month suspended sentences with fines. A third suspect may be acquitted for lack of evidence. The Judge will present his decision in these three cases on September 26. All three suspects were not present for Wednesday’s hearing and, therefore, were unable to hear the Prosecutor call for the acquittal of one of them, F.L.A. (48), for lack of evidence.

The Prosecutor said there was insufficient proof that he had cooperated in the buying of votes. “A. denied the vote-buying charges and the only one who provided a statement about him is [co-suspect – Ed] J.B. That is insufficient to consider the case proven,” he said.

For suspects J.B. (30) and R.Y. (33), the prosecutor called for suspended prison sentences of three months, with US $100 fines.

In his closing speech, the prosecutor said that the cases of the vote buyer and initiator of the scheme, former Member of Parliament and candidate on the United People’s Party slate Silvio Matser, who stood trial in a separate procedure earlier on Wednesday (see related story), and of persons selling their votes were inseparable.

“If nobody sold their vote, there would be no electoral fraud. The law does not make any distinction between the seller and the buyer in terms of penalties: there is just as much punishment for both crimes. The right to cast your vote at your own discretion on a candidate of your preference is a great democratic right. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way and almost every election there are signals of vote buying again,” the prosecutor said in his closing speech.

B. and Y. both confessed that they had sold their votes. Y., who was being held at the Simpson Bay detention centre at the time, was told that he would receive $100-150 in his prison canteen account in exchange for a vote for the UP Party. He actually voted for another party, but that did not mean that he was not punishable, according to the prosecutor.

B. was approached by A. with the question whether he would vote for the UP in exchange for “compensation.” He told investigators that Matser’s name was also mentioned. He tried to negotiate a higher amount, but said he had “only” received $100. He also stated that he would not have cast his vote if he had not received any money, but said he eventually agreed with the arrangement.

“St. Maarten is a vulnerable democracy,” the Prosecutor said. “Due to the low number of voters, a candidate does not need many votes to go to Parliament. Buying votes is, therefore, lucrative. For relatively little money you are ensured of a seat in the Parliament of St. Maarten. In addition, $100 is a large amount for many St. Maarten people, especially, if you are detained and you have almost no income.”

However, the prosecutor did make a distinction between the vote sellers in the Octopus investigation and the vote buyers united in Matser’s election campaign team, which the Prosecutor’s Office considers a criminal organisation.

“In the interest of a healthy parliamentary democracy the National Detectives and the Prosecutor’s Office take signals of election fraud always very seriously. Where possible, an investigation will be launched, regardless of those involved, whether it concerns a Member of Parliament or a detainee,” the Prosecutor said.

Source: The Daily Herald