PHILIPSBURG–The Joint Court of Justice referred the so-called “Masbangu” case, involving selling or buying votes on behalf of United People’s (UP) party in the September 2010 election, to the Court of First Instance on Tuesday for retrial.
The Court of First Instance declared the Prosecutor’s Office’s cases against these men inadmissible in August 2014, because it had failed to also investigate the roles of UP and its leadership in the scheme.
Initially, the case involved five suspects, but one of these persons passed away in June 2014.
The case concerns (former) officers of the then-Police Force of St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba and of Voluntary Corps of St. Maarten VKS with initials R.C.H.J. (63), C.J.L.C. (46) and A.R.W.M. (44), who allegedly had sold their votes, and R.H. (61), who had mediated in the sale.
The Prosecutor’s Office had requested suspended prison sentences of three months, with two years’ probation, 150-200 hours of community service and that the Court take away suspects’ rights to vote. In addition, the Prosecutor had requested that R.H. be deprived of his right to be elected.
According to the Judge in the Court of First Instance, the Prosecutor’s Office had violated the principle of equal treatment. It had given the “semblance of class justice” in its decision to prosecute only these suspects for their roles in the election fraud, but not UP party and/or its leadership, which was in contravention of the prohibition of arbitrariness, the Judge had stated.
Solicitor-General Taco Stein contested the judgement during the April 16 appeal hearing. He pointed out that the Prosecutor’s Office has a wide discretion in its decision to launch criminal investigations. Furthermore, Stein claimed that even unjustified failure to prosecute others would not automatically lead to inadmissibility.
According to the Solicitor-General, the principle of equality had not been violated because the case against the four suspects and a possible case against UP and its leadership would not comparable.
An investigation into UP’s alleged involvement in vote buying would have to provide answers to a number of questions, such as what party members had been responsible and in what way. Financial investigations into the amount and source of the money also would be required, as well as into the ways in which it had been spent. These investigations are of a totally different nature than the “relatively simple investigations” into the four suspects, the Solicitor-General had stated.
According to information obtained by the Criminal Intelligence Unit, UP party leader Theo Heyliger allegedly had deposited US $3 million into UP’s election fund out of his own pocket. There were also a number of statements indicating that UP had handed out money.
The suspects’ lawyers all had maintained that the Prosecutor’s Office’s cases against their clients’ should be declared inadmissible, but had not subscribed to all of the Court of First Instance’s conclusions.
The Joint Court accepted the Solicitor-General’s arguments. Based on the case file and the exchange of arguments during the appeal hearing, the Joint Court arrived at the conclusion that Masbangu was “not a matter of equal cases being handled unequally.”
Therefore, the ruling of the Court of First Instance was quashed and the cases referred for retrial. During retrial, defence lawyers will be able to present other grounds to declare the Prosecutor’s cases against their clients inadmissible; for instance, for undue delay, the Court of Appeals added.
THE MASBANGU CASE IS BACK ON! COURT TO RETRY CASE OF THEO HEYLIGER’S UPP PARTY BRIBING THE SXM POLICE DEPT $300 EACH FOR INFLUENCE VOTES