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Customs discover large quantity of marijuana in Jamaican shipment

page3b151POINTE BLANCHE--The customs department have struck again as a large quantity of Marijuana was intercepted at the Harbour of St. Maarten, where it had come in on a ship from Jamaica on Friday morning. After a similar drugs bust, customs officers had increased checks on shipments coming in from Jamaica.

The drugs, totalling some 1,100 kilo, which were found inside 35 sports bags and 7 bales were concealed in a shipping container carrying boxes of Fritolay crisps, which were brought in on the Auri G, a ship from Jamaica, Chief of the customs department Anthony Doran confirms.

The entire container was emptied and boxes checked. Three police pick-up trucks attended the harbour to carry the drugs to Philipsburg Police Station. The Fritolay boxes where then repacked in the container, to continue their way to their owner, a supermarket which is believed to have been unaware of the additional cargo.

The customs department have started a large scale investigation. At this time there is no indication that the bust was linked to that of a few weeks ago, also in the harbour involving another Jamaican ship.

No one had been arrested at press time. However, Doran stated that an arrest was expected to be made in the near future.

Doran also said that Customs Department was hard at work to increase the safety of St. Maarten. "Recently we have increased checks both at the airport and in the harbour. We look at risk flights and shipments, coming from, or going to, specific countries. We also check for money as well as drugs. We have some 12 new trainees who have almost completed their training. If we continue the way we are working now, we are going to have some big results."

Doran mentioned the good cooperation the Customs Department has with its various partners. "In this case, I would like to thank the Police Force St. Maarten, the harbour authorities and the Fire Department which assist us with destroying the marijuana."

René-Jean Duret acquitted in conflict of interest case

MARIGOT--Territorial Councillor for the majority party René-Jean Duret was cleared of any wrong doing by the court in Marigot on Thursday in the conflict of interest case brought against him in February 2013.

President of the Tribunal Gérard Egron-Reverseau in his verdict said there was "insufficient proof" of any conflict of interest occurring or any intent on the part of Duret to commit wrong doing.

The verdict comes as an immense relief to Duret who was questioned for nearly two hours on the stand by the judge on September 17 and had spent one day in custody (garde à vue). He was facing a charge of "prise d'intérêt illegal" (conflict of interest) because of his dual roles held as Director of Operations for Semsamar and Territorial Councillor for the Collectivité.

Duret, an engineer by profession, retired from Semsamar in December 31, 2013. The Collectivité is a majority 51 per cent shareholder in the mixed capital company.

In November 2013 he attended a preliminary hearing where his lawyer Maitre Jean-Yves Leborgne deferred the case pending clarification from the Constitutional Court on the articles of the criminal code relating to conflicts of interest. The judge and prosecutor at the time agreed that this was not clear. According to Duret the National Assembly is lobbying for a new law about conflict of interest.

"The articles are badly defined in the penal code but Cour de Cassation (appeals court) doesn't like to have another court above them making judgements so they transfer only ten per cent of the clarifications on constitutionality, and in my case it was not even sent so we are back to the beginning again," Duret said at the time. "This is more about the potential for conflict of interest. Yet there is no proof of conflict of interest, no material facts, no victims, and no formal complaints.

"I am the only victim here, spending a lot of time and money to prove my innocence. I am supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty but in the French system it does not come across that way. It is a witch hunt; they are trying to find something to pin on me. I stopped following projects with the Collectivité as soon as I was elected to the Territorial Council."

Prosecutor Noailles argued the two roles should have been more clearly defined to avoid a blurring of the lines. He said it was not enough to say there is no conflict of interest but to give an appearance of a conflict of interest confuses people and he (Duret) had an obligation to make this clear.

Noailles had called for a six-month suspended prison sentence and a 50,000 euro fine.

Minister ‘disturbed’ by water pump situation, to discuss disaster response

~ Thompson calls statement 'propaganda' ~

PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Infrastructure VROMI Maurice Lake says he is "very disturbed with the situation regarding the storm water pumps" and has announced that he is set to meet soon with representatives of various governmental ministries and agencies in relation to disaster management.

In response, environmentalist Rueben Thompson called these comments "the same propaganda we hear with every natural disaster."

Lake's statements were relayed via a VROMI press release last night and came in the wake of recent torrential rainfall, Hurricane Gonzalo mid-October and subsequent criticism in regard to flooded areas and lack of maintenance of emergency systems such as floodgates and water pumps.

The planned meeting will take place on the morning of Monday, November 17, and will focus on disaster preparedness, management planning and response.

'Be on the ball'

"I am very disturbed with the situation regarding the storm water pumps," the press release quoted Minister Lake as saying. "Only one out of the three pumps was working at the time, and the working one also had some issues.

"This cannot be allowed to happen again. These pumps need to be in tiptop shape where it concerns regular maintenance/servicing and frequent testing. A new plan needs to be drafted up on how things should go and perhaps placed under the Secretary-General of Ministry VROMI.

"There is a budget to restructure the floodgates and that the project is tentatively set to start end of November. A quotation has also been requested with respect to the Arch Road trench."

He further disclosed that dredging parts of Fresh Water Pond and Great Salt Ponds might be necessary due to topsoil and rocks being washed into both water basins.

"Sint Maarten has lived through many storms, hurricanes and flood events, and therefore, we should be professionals based on all the experience we have gained. We need to be on the ball," he said.

"We need to re-evaluate exactly how things went and how better we can enhance our response, but also being pro-active. As Minister, the responsibility lies with me and now we need to find solutions to the challenges that we were confronted with, and it goes across the board."

Lake thanked MP Leona Marlin-Romeo for suggestions and input with respect to the Arch Road area that were not specified in the press release. He said he had visited affected areas such as Arch Road and Foga and had spoken to many residents after the most recent weather events.

A story was featured in Thursday's issue of The Daily Herald in which a Foga resident complained that the Minister had not visited.

Lake said other flooded areas such as the Cul de Sac basin, Beacon Hill, Belair, the area surrounding SXM Airport, including a stretch in front of the warehouse building, and Mullet Bay also had his attention.

"We have to move forward to address these issues in a constructive manner and I will be seeking the input by all agencies and ministries concerned. Our people are looking forward to action and better planning. We should be leading in disaster preparedness due to all the experience we have, and we need to be prepared at all times."

'Atrocity'

Thompson has been especially vocal recently, in the wake of the recent weather conditions and subsequent flooding, about his repeated warnings against filling in the island's ponds and thereby reducing their water catchment and retention capacities. He publicly stated recently that his advice, echoed in government-commissioned reports by international experts, had been ignored.

"Based on my experience, this seems to be nothing more than another round of damage control and lip service," Thompson said in response to Lake's latest comments. "The Minister is clearly pretending not to have been at the helm of Public Works in one form or the other for at least the past decade. How much more of this will the electorate stand for? This is the same propaganda we hear with every natural disaster."

Thompson pointed out that Lake had a long working history in VROMI and said the public should not be expected to believe that he is "only now familiarising himself with infrastructural deficiencies." He called for VROMI to "do what needs to be done.

"The floodgates have been broken for years. Why has funding not been allocated? The fact that pumps were out of order is an atrocity," he said. As an environmentalist he said he encouraged "the population at large to take the government and VROMI in particular to court for negligence and dereliction of duty.

"VROMI's failure to maintain the water retention capacity of Great Salt Pond, failure to open the channel at Great Bay in time and the fact that the pumps were out of order have worsened an already dire situation." He said this had led to "damage to homes and properties, affected livelihoods and could have easily led to loss of life."

Massive search inside Pointe Blanche prison

page3a150POINTE BLANCHE--A massive search was carried out at the Pointe Blanche prison on Wednesday, November 12, by members of the Police Force in collaboration with Dutch Marines, the Customs Department, Immigration and Naturalisation Department and the Volunteer Corps St. Maarten VKS.

The 40-man-strong search team entered the prison around 7:00am and immediately began a general search of the facility. The reason for the search was to locate and confiscate any illegal firearms, other weapons, drugs and other illegal items.

The search lasted until 4:00pm. It was completed without resistance and with cooperation from the inmates. During the search a large number of illegal items such as homemade machetes, knives, shanks, several small packs of compressed marijuana, homemade tattoo machines, 25 cellular telephones and several telephone chargers were found and confiscated.

Regular searches will be conducted, with the next search taking place in the near future.

BIP law approved by Parliament Thursday

PHILIPSBURG--The first formal step in the establishment of the Bureau Intellectual Property (BIP) was cemented Thursday when Parliament approved the law regulating the bureau. All eleven Members of Parliament (MPs) present for the plenary session of Parliament individually voted to adopt the legislation.

The establishment of the bureau has been pending in the form of the draft legislation since the final days of the Netherlands Antilles Parliament. The draft was taken over by the St. Maarten Parliament upon the attainment of country-within-the-Dutch-Kingdom on October 10, 2010.

The meeting to approve this piece of legislation was before Parliament twice before, but the sessions had to be cancelled due to no quorum. Thursday's meeting, based on the Parliament's Rules of Order, could have taken place without the required eight MPs. This was not necessary as 11 MPs were present for the session.

BIP, once physically established, is expected to generate some income for government's coffers through the registration of patents, trademarks and other intellectual property from persons and companies from within and outside of St. Maarten.

MPs George Pantophlet (National Alliance), Cornelius de Weever (Democratic Party) and Leona Marlin-Romeo (independent) raised some issues of concern about the bureau's establishment, such as staffing and the working relationship with the Benelux bureau in Europe.

Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Ted Richardson addressed their questions prior to MPs voting on the law.

The BIP law was the first piece of new legislation passed by the second Parliament of St. Maarten. Last week, MPs approved amendments to the Stamp Ordinance that regulates Dutch passport fees.

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