The Court of Appeals of Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten, and the BES-islands (the “Court”) ordered the prosecution of an individual with political authority on Sint Maarten. The order relates exclusively to a limited number of crimes of which he is suspected.
Based on the Constitution of Sint Maarten and the National Ordinance for Prosecution of Individuals with Political Authority, the Public Prosecutor’s Office can only prosecute individuals with political authority after an order to that effect has been issued by the Court.
Further to the results of an extensive criminal investigation codenamed “Ruby”, carried out since July 2018 by the RST Investigation Team under authority of the Anti-Corruption Taskforce of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (TBO), the Public Prosecutor’s Office submitted a request for such order in May 2020.
The Ruby investigation focuses, among other things, on criminal acts related to the tendering process of contracts for the management of the landfill on Sint Maarten. Alleged mismanagement of the landfill may have resulted in health risks for the community of Sint Maarten. The suspicion, as far as the aforementioned political authority is concerned, focuses particularly on administrative corruption like the acceptance of bribes, abuse of authority, forgery, and the misuse of public funds for personal purposes.
The Court is of the opinion that there are sufficient grounds for the suspicion of the individual in relation to aforementioned crimes, in other words: that the suspicion is substantiated. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the Public Prosecutor’s Office did not act lightly when deciding to submit its request to further prosecute the suspect. Also, according to the Court, there is no question of political motives that formed the basis for submitting such requests. Finally, there are no grounds of general interest that should lead to the refusal of the request by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
As a result of last Friday’s ruling, the Public Prosecutor’s Office is preparing the next phase of the Ruby investigation, the phase in which the suspect will be summoned to appear before a criminal judge. Clarity regarding alleged corrupt and fraudulent acts of an individual who is part of the public administration is in the interest of both the community of Sint Maarten and the suspected individual alike.
It is important for a well-functioning democratic society that citizens have confidence in public administration. Administrative corruption is a multi-faceted phenomenon that occurs typically when public and private interests converge. Corruption has strong disrupting effects: it undermines the integrity of the government and leads to unfair commercial competition. For this reason, TBO takes indications of corruption very serious and, if necessary, has them thoroughly investigated.
On Tuesday 18 February 2020, the Anti-Corruption Task Force (TBO) searched a business premises and various archive storages on Sint Maarten under the supervision of the judge of instruction. No arrests were made.
The searches were carried out in relation to an extensive criminal investigation codenamed
“Ruby”. This investigation began in July 2018 and concentrates on the phenomenon of – alleged
– bid-rigging regarding contracts related to waste processing on Sint Maarten. Investigation Ruby mainly focuses on the suspicion of administrative corruption, in particular the acceptance of bribes and the misuse of public funds for personal purposes.
The company subject to the search – and its management – are currently not considered as suspects in the investigation. Based on strong indications that information relevant to the investigation was available within the company, the Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a written demand to the company’s management for disclosure of such information. This took place last year. Although the company has been given ample time, this demand was – presumably intentionally – not complied with in a satisfactory manner. This is one of the reasons why the Public Prosecutor’s Office requested permission from the judge of instruction to search the business premises and archive storages: to seize the relevant information.
It is important to emphasize that the level of compliance with a demand from the Public Prosecutor’s Office is not without obligation or at the sole discretion of the addressed party. On the contrary: it is legally required to comply fully. Failure to sufficiently cooperate with the judicial authorities could result in a serious impediment to a criminal investigation. The consequences should not be underestimated: such party accepts the risk of being subject to an unannounced search by the investigation services to secure the requested information. In addition to this, refusal to comply with such judicial demand can be qualified as nonobservance of an official order. This is a criminal offence.
TBO is a project-based collaboration between designated units of the criminal investigation cooperation team (RST) and the Attorney General’s Office of Curaçao, Sint Maarten and Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba. TBO focuses on a specialized approach to combat corruption and undermining financial and economic crime. Additionally, the team investigates fraud, forgery and money laundering.
It is important for a well-functioning democratic society that citizens have confidence in public administration. Administrative corruption is a multi-faceted phenomenon that occurs typically when public and private interests converge. Corruption undermines the integrity of the government and leads to unfair commercial competition. For this reason, TBO takes indications of corruption very serious and, if necessary, conducts in-depth investigations.