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PHILIPSBURG–Former Minister of Finance Hiroshi Shigemoto (44) and Global Advisor Services (GAS) BV Director R.A.G. (62) both claim they are innocent. Their lawyers pleaded for their clients’ full acquittals on Thursday during the second day of hearings in the so-called Piranha case.
Both men are accused of having committed fraud in connection with invoices sent in for payment of GAS services in connection with the recruitment of highly-skilled staff members for the Department of Fiscal Affairs and with a one-year USONA-financed project to hire staff for the new Tax Department to the maximum all-inclusive amount of NAf. 336,000, including travel and other expenses. In total, GAS would have defrauded government of NAf. 233,054 in false invoices.
The Prosecutor’s Office requested on Wednesday eight months, deprivation of the right to be elected and a five-year ban from the civil service for Shigemoto, and 12 months with payment of a NAf. 233,000 fine for G.
The charges against the two include fraud, embezzlement, forgery and money-laundering. The Prosecutor’s Office is of the opinion that Shigemoto also committed misconduct as a civil servant and violated the rules for public bidding.
However, the defendants and their lawyers denied any wrongdoing and claimed all their work had been done for the good of the country.
In July 2009 the Executive Council approved GAS as partner for the Tax Office project, on Shigemoto’s recommendation. The project was to start June 15, 2009, and to be concluded on June 14, 2010.
The service agreement to recruit personnel for Country St. Maarten was valid from January 1 to June 29, 2009. This project was approved by the Executive Council on April 14, 2009, and budgeted for NAf. 170,964, with no public bidding process held.
The Prosecutor’s Office is holding it against G. that he sought payment of nine invoices for services provided outside the official contract period and that he incorrectly submitted three “success fees” for persons who either were not hired or already were in government employment. Shigemoto is suspected of having facilitated and sanctioned the forged invoices.
Shigemoto’s lawyer Jairo Bloem presented 48 pages in pleadings in which he stated that the summons was invalid because the allegations were insufficiently clear. He also called on the Court to declare the Prosecutor’s case against his client inadmissible. According to Bloem, his client was the victim of “arbitrariness,” of “inaccuracies” and of the “contrived way” in which the Prosecutor’s Office had presented the facts.
Unpaid volunteer
Shigemoto’s political career and personal life were seriously damaged by this case. “Nobody wants to hire me,” Shigemoto told the Judge on Wednesday, in pointing out that his career was over. He currently is working as an unpaid volunteer at Charlotte Brookson Academy of the Performance Arts.
According his lawyer, Shigemoto should not be prosecuted because the contested invoices had not yet been paid when then-head of the Department of Resources Bas Roorda filed a report with the Prosecutor’s Office.
Bloem stated that it would have been more logical if an internal investigation into the alleged wrongdoings had been launched, or researched by Government Accountants Bureau SOAB or the General Audit Chamber.
The lawyer said the case against his client was based on the “conspiracy theory” of Roorda, with whom Shigemoto had not been on speaking terms. Bloem claimed there was some sort of a “Dutch connection” linked with the Prosecutor’s Office that held it against Shigemoto that the two contested projects had not been granted to a large consultant agency, but to minor local consultant GAS.
In pleading for G.’s acquittal, attorney-at-law Richard Gibson Jr. said the accusations were “unjust and unjustified.” He claimed his client was not guilty of forgery, fraud and money-laundering, as all work-related invoices had been submitted correctly.
Gibson said his client was “fully confident” that he would be acquitted, and statements that G. had been in any close relationship with Shigemoto or any other decision-maker within government were “utter nonsense.”
Hands-on man
“My client is a very hands-on man. Work was done and he was paid for that. Nothing more, nothing less,” was Gibson’s conclusion. He said the requested sentence for his client, who is also Chief Financial Officer and management consultant of Windward Islands Airways Winair, was “out of every proportion.”
In responding to the lawyers’ pleadings, Prosecutor Maarten Noordzij maintained that G. had enriched himself and had put up a “smoke screen” to conceal the “conflict of interest with a capital C.”
At the end of his trial, Shigemoto said the Prosecutor’s Office did not understand how government works. “I do not feel that I have been given a fair trial,” he said.
Shigemoto was held on December 17, 2012, and released from pre-trial detention seven days later.
G. said he had been “flabbergasted” when he was subjected to a house search at the beginning of the investigations. He was arrested on December 3, 2012, and held in detention for 10 days, which had forced him to spend his 60th birthday in jail.
“My life has been turned upside down. This case has grave consequences for me, my family and my business, and until today I still do not know why. From 2008 until deep into 2012, I have tried to bring the best people from the Antilles to St. Maarten to assist in building the Tax Department and Department of Fiscal Affairs,” G. said in his final word.
The Court will give its decision May 28.

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