Attorney Cor Merx upset about procedure
St. Maarten News – The Public Prosecutor’s Office has not only accused parliamentarian Silvio Matser of election fraud but also of membership of a criminal organization. According to Matser’s attorney Cor Merx, the second charge has only been added to facilitate his client’s police custody.
This is only permitted for crimes that carry at least 4 years of imprisonment. The maximum sentence for election fraud is 6 months of imprisonment or a fine of $165.
Merx said yesterday that he still does not have a dossier about the case and that he had no idea where his client is currently detained. “He is in restricted custody. This means that he is not allowed visitors and that he is not allowed access to newspaper, radio or television,” Merx said.
Norman Serphos, the spokesman of the prosecutor’s office for this case, told this newspaper that no information will be released about the place of Matser’s detention.
After the National Detective Agency arrested Matser on Wednesday morning at 9.15 a.m., the period of 2×24 hours custody kicked in at 3.15 p.m. that afternoon. This term ends today at 3.15 p.m. Before that time, the independent MP has to appear before the Judge of Instruction, but chances are that Matser will refuse to go to court.
The prosecutor’s office will ask a ruling from the Judge of Instruction on the lawfulness of Matser’s arrest; the judge will then assess whether continued detention is warranted. In that case, Matser will remain another eight days behind bars. In case his detention after those eight days is extended again, the suspect will be in pretrial detention.
From that moment onwards, Matser is suspended by law as a Member of Parliament. According to the constitution his place should then be taken by a substitute. It is however unclear who this substitute should be, because Matser is an independent Member of Parliament and there is no one in line to take his place. In case the seat would fall back into the hands of the party he left – the United People’s party – the seat would go to Maria Buncamper-Molanus. That would also mean that the current government loses its majority support in parliament.
Attorney Merx is upset with the whole procedure surrounding his client’s arrest for more than one reason. The first one is that the case officer, Martin van Nes, submitted a request to the Judge of Instruction on March 1. The Judge of Instruction however, did not immediately grant it, because a house search is an act of prosecuting – and because Matser is a politician, this requires permission from the Common Court of Justice, upon request from the Attorney-General.
That request was filed on March 2 – a day after the house search request, while detectives of the NDA were already on Matser’s doorstep.
Matser initially let the detectives into his house, then thought better of it and called his attorney, who advised the detectives to leave the premise immediately until there was a proper warrant.
“This they did,” Merx said, “But in the meantime they confiscated a laptop and a phone from his girlfriend.”
When the Common Court wanted to handle the request of the attorney-general to prosecute Matser at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Merx was not present. “The prosecutor told me about it but I was not properly invited,” he explained yesterday. “At 3 p.m. the chair of the court called me, saying they were waiting for me, and I explained the situation. Only after I understood that I could make my objections known during the process, I went.”
At 4 p.m. the court granted permission to prosecute Matser and from there on the house searches took place.
Merx however, still does not have a dossier. “I do not know what they took from his house and office,” he said.
According to prosecutor’s office spokesman Norman Serphos, detectives confiscated documents and administration from Matser’s home for investigation. He corrected an earlier statement about finding marijuana in co-suspect Eddie F.’s home: that was cocaine. All four suspects are currently detained and being interrogated, according to Serphos.
The attorney also wonders about the authority of the Solicitor-General, Ton van der Schans, to act on behalf of attorney-general Guus Schram. “I asked if I could see his mandate, but he brushed me off,” Merx said. The request to prosecute Matser is signed by Van der Schans as acting attorney-general.
Another point concerns case officer Van Nes. He submitted the request for the house search on Monday, but attorney-general Guus Schram only appointed him as the case officer in a letter dated Tuesday, March 1.
Lastly, Merx, as the chair of the association of criminal defense attorneys, strongly objects to the discriminatory treatment lawyers in St. Maarten get from the Common Court of Justice. “If we want to file summary proceedings, the coordinator of the court says that we have to wait three weeks. But the request from the acting attorney-general to deal with the prosecution of my client could be done practically within a day.”