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Judge to decide Tuesday on Bada Bing witnesses

page1a081PHILIPSBURG--Judge Koos van de Ven decided on Thursday to adjourn the preliminary hearing in the so-called "Orca" trial until next week Tuesday, to consider requests of the defence for additional investigations and the hearing of witnesses.

It is not yet known when the actual court case will be heard, but in any case not before mid-January 2015; most likely in March or April 2015.

In the trial, Member of Parliament (MP) Patrick Illidge (48) will be charged with accepting bribes from Bada Bing and Lunteren N.V. owner Jaap Van den Heuvel (48) for the total amount of US $150,000, between October 2010 and September 2012.

In exchange for the money, Illidge was to use his power and influence to favour the Bada Bing owner in ensuring the Ministry of Economic Affairs would grant adapted permits to the nightclub and seek a change in its official registered address from Maho Shopping Centre to Sr. P. Houtman Road in Simpson Bay.

Illidge also was to promote extended opening hours for Bada Bing and seek the extension of work permits for several female employees. According to the Prosecutor's Office, these are all violations of Article 379 of the Penal Code.

Illidge was also charged with possession of an illegal firearm; a nine-millimetre Ruger.

The indictment against Van den Heuvel consists of eight charges, including the alleged bribery of MP Illidge.

The Bada Bing owner was also charged with money laundering to the amount of NAf. 1,767,031, and of membership in a criminal organisation. Together with the other suspects, Van den Heuvel would have been involved in various criminal activities, among which were forgery, money laundering, bribery, tax evasion, trafficking of women and the employment of women without a work permit.

The Prosecutor's Office also charged Van den Heuvel with forgery of a commercial lease agreement.

Lunteren N.V. and its employee K.E.v.d.B. (41) were separately indicted. The company was also charged with involvement in money laundering, trafficking of women, tax evasion and violation of the ordinance on the employment of foreign labourers.

Van den Heuvel is at the centre of the Bada Bing corruption case, which surrounds a videotape of Illidge apparently accepting banknotes from Van den Heuvel while the two discuss business permits. Illidge had said it concerned repayment of a loan.

Attorneys Ralph Richardson and Cor Merx both requested the Prosecutor's Office to provide the Attorney-General's order to launch the investigation, as well as the authorisation to involve national detectives from Aruba. Merx also requested the financial administration to be returned to his client.

A number of persons were already questioned during the earlier stages of the investigations, including former Justice Minister Roland Duncan, Immigration and Naturalisation Department (IND) head Udo Aron, Minister of Economic Affairs Romeo Pantophlet and MP Theo Heyliger.

Merx submitted by far the longest list of additional witnesses, which included the names of former Chief Prosecutor Hans Mos, owner of three adult entertainment centres Etienne "Toochie" Meyers, as well as Van den Heuvel's business administrator and one of his bouncers.

Both attorneys also requested additional investigations into the videotape. They claim there are two versions of the tape; one which was published by The Daily Herald, and one by Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.

According to one tape, Van den Heuvel took three packs of banknotes from the vault in his office, whereas on the other tape it can be seen that he took three stacks from a drawer in his desk.

Merx claimed the tapes may have been manipulated and requested a forensic investigation, which should also include the synchronisation of image and sound.

The sound was recorded on Van den Heuvel's telephone, he said, when asked by his attorney whether a laptop was used.

Except for the bouncer, the Prosecutor objected to the hearing of witnesses because she deemed this "irrelevant" and "without additional value."

The Judge said he would consider all requests and would present his decision on Tuesday morning.

The actual hearing of this case was scheduled for January 14-15. However, presiding Judge van de Ven will be leaving St. Maarten as per October 1, as was announced last week. His replacement will not be installed before January 1, 2015. Therefore, the planned hearings on January 14 and 15 are to be rescheduled until a later date to allow the new Judge some extra time to settle himself. A new date for the trial will be set during the court session of January 14, it was announced.

Firearms to be collected

PHILIPSBURG--The Justice Ministry will soon launch a campaign for people to turn in (unlicensed) weapons in an effort to stem the up-tick in violent crimes involving the use of a weapon. The collection of weapons was a suggestion that came out of meetings with French side counterparts.

Justice Minister Dennis Richardson said authorities are aware that the weapons that will be collected will not necessarily be the ones that have been or will be used in violent crime. The collection will focus more on reducing the number of weapons on the street.

Getting weapons off the street will "go much further" than just the collection. It will also encompass tackling the use and import of weapons to the island, the minister said. He noted that he is "not a great supporter" of issuing weapons to people.

The increase in the number of violent crimes is "particularly disturbing" and is of "great concern" for Government, he said. "We cannot sit back and just let that happen. We will not sit back and let this happen."

To tackle the increase in violent crime, the minister has commissioned Prosecutor's Office, Police Force and other law enforcement agencies to formulate a plan to tackle violent crime. The plan needs to be "executed as quickly as possible and to be consistent."

He said, "One of our weaknesses is that we tend to do things once, if it has effect we tend to lean back and let it develop again."

The minister said the public should expect a more "stringent approach by police" in tackling crime.

Ministers agree with most of integrity recommendations

PHILIPSBURG--Government "embraces" the recommendations of the Wit-Samson Report on Integrity in Government to "99.9 percent," says Justice Minister Dennis Richardson. "In general, I can say we have embraced that report nearly in its entirety. There are a few issues that need further study," he said.

The Council of Ministers has formulated its response to the forty recommendations from the Wit-Samson Committee and is expected to publish this soon.

Richardson said Government is satisfied that the report found "no connection" between government and the "underworld," which was one of the concerns and motivations for the Kingdom Government to instruct Governor Eugene Holiday to conduct a similar integrity investigation into the workings of government.

One of the most important recommendations is the establishment of an integrity chamber. Government welcomes that recommendation from the committee, because the current Wescot-Williams III Cabinet had said it was "embarking on an auditing of government actions and judicial certifications," said the minister. A chamber as suggested by the committee will "re-enforce" the cabinet's position.

The integrity chamber would be able by law to investigate decisions taken by the Government and work as a preventative organ against integrity breaches.

The Council of Ministers approved its response to the Wit-Samson Integrity Report on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams told the press. She said the "point-for-point reaction" to the 40 recommendations of the report was already in process when the report was leaked to the press on Tuesday. The Council had hoped to approve the response last week, but this did not occur.

She and Richardson see the release of the report to the print media as a good thing for government. They said this means that the media can now focus on Government's response to the recommendations, instead of the report itself.

Government's response and the integrity report will be forwarded to Governor Eugene Holiday, Parliament, and the Kingdom Council of Ministers. The report and response are also to be put into a government resolution and published for public perusal.

The three-prong declaration of assets and commitment by ministers is one of the procedures Government will review in favour of adopting the Curaçao approach of intensive screening prior to a minister taking office. This was a recommendation of the committee. The St. Maarten procedure, at present, is candidate-ministers submitting declarations for the screening process followed by another declaration after taking office and yet another upon demitting office.

Wescot-Williams said all three declarations have not been submitted by all past ministers.

Parliament has been informed this week by Prime Minister that none of the ministers of the Wescot-Williams I and Wescot-Williams II cabinet submitted all the declarations. Only three ministers of the second cabinet submitted the exit declaration upon demitting office.

All ministers of the current Wescot-Williams III cabinet have submitted their declarations. These were submitted in September 2013 to the Clerk of the Court, while the declaration of the Prime Minister has been sent to the Advisory Council. The third cabinet took office in June 2013.

Wescot-Williams said she informed Parliament in her letter that she was not making an "excuse" for the declarations not being filed, as it's her responsibility. However, she said she pointed out that both Parliament and Government "were finding their way" in the new laws that came into place upon the attainment of country status on 10-10-10.

Harbour taken to court over ‘breach of contract’

page3c080POINTE BLANCHE--Zebec Development N.V. filed a legal claim for more than US $100 million against the St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies and its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Mingo yesterday, August 20, for alleged breach of contract concerning the development of the Harbour Village project in the cruise terminal.

"The claim stems from the Harbour's repeated failure to meet its contractual obligations as defined under various agreements," Zebec said. It said it was to fully fund and develop the project, while the Harbour Group simply would generate "many years of income from a revenue-sharing agreement."

"Agreements with the Harbour have been entered into over the last four years with CEO Mark Mingo, who continues to set up roadblocks to this mutually beneficial new development. Despite an enormous commitment of time and the expenditure of several million dollars in research and development, Zebec is no closer to seeing this project become a reality," explained Zebec Managing Director Tony Cabeceira in a press release issued on Wednesday.

The company said it was left with no alternative other than to commence legal action after "long-term efforts to reach a satisfactory amicable solution with its development partners" had failed. "While we regret having to resort to this measure, we feel we have no alternative but to seek remedies in the Court," said Zebec Managing Director Luis Gioia.

The Harbour Village was intended to be a collaborative effort to develop the currently vacant 13,000-square-metre parcel of land adjacent to the cruise piers into "an unrivalled mix of shopping and entertainment" that would include, among other things, restaurants, bars and a lazy-pool. Zebec said it had a long-lease on the land.

The Harbour previously had promoted the project through brochures and the local newspapers.

"Designed and inspired by a former Disney World creative team and featuring a variety of entertainment experiences, the Harbour Village was destined to make St. Maarten Harbour the flagship port of call in the entire Caribbean," said Cabeceira.

It "would provide economic benefits well beyond the long-term financial rewards for the Harbour. By creating an unparalleled tourist experience, the Dutch Harbour Village would help increase cruise passenger expenditures in St Maarten and provide both much-needed employment opportunities and a new source of tax revenue for the country."

Lexwell Attorneys at Law associate Willem Nelissen declined to give further specifics on the new case, but confirmed that it had been filed and that although the cooperation had been announced publicly, it now had simmered down to a complete standstill.

CEO Mingo could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Economy expanded by 0.9 per cent in 2013

~ Public sector contribution negative ~

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten's economy expanded in real terms by 0.9 per cent in 2013, Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten President Dr. Emsley Tromp said during a presentation of the institution's 2013 Annual Report on Tuesday.

The real gross domestic product (GDP) growth was driven solely by the private sector. The contribution of the public sector was negative.

While St. Maarten recorded a small expansion, the real GDP in Curaçao contracted by 0.8 per cent. Tromp said the economic performance in the monetary union of Curaçao and St. Maarten had been "mixed" in 2013.

He said in St Maarten inflation had moderated from 4.0 per cent in 2012 to 2.5 per cent in 2013 because of a slowdown in food price gains and lower electricity prices, while consumer price inflation in Curaçao dropped to 1.3 per cent in 2013 from 3.2 per cent in 2012 reflecting mainly lower fuel prices.

St. Maarten

According to Tromp, private sector growth was supported primarily by the wholesale and retail trade and construction sectors. The positive development in the wholesale and retail trade sector was the result of increased domestic demand and more tourism spending, he said. Real value added rose in the construction sector due to more public and private sector investments.

Growth weakened in the restaurants and hotels sector in 2013 as the expansion in both stay-over and cruise tourism was less pronounced than in 2012. The expansion in stay-over tourism was driven by increases in the number of visitors from South America, North America and the Caribbean. However, the North American and Caribbean market segments rose at a slower pace than in 2012.

The European market segment contracted, due mainly to fewer visitors from the Netherlands and France, said Tromp. The development in cruise tourism matches the increase in the number of cruise vessels visiting the port of Philipsburg during 2013.

Following a contraction in 2012, activities in the manufacturing sector rose in 2013 because of increased repair activities on yachts that visited St. Maarten. The utilities sector also contributed positively to growth, as reflected by increases in the production and consumption of water and electricity.

Poor performance of the transport, storage and communication and financial intermediation sectors dampened St Maarten's real GDP growth in 2013. Real output dropped in the financial intermediation sector, as indicated by a decline in net interest income of the domestic banks.

Meanwhile, real value added in the transport, storage and communication sector shrank due to a decline in harbour activities mitigated by more air transportation and airport-related activities. The poor performance by the harbour was the result of a drop in the number of ships that visited St Maarten.

Curaçao

The economic contraction in Curaçao was attributable entirely to domestic spending. By contrast, net foreign demand increased. The private sector in particular accounted for the decline in domestic spending. Both private consumption and investment fell.

The drop in private consumption was related to the measures taken by the government, including the increase in social premiums that affected disposable income, the worsening labour market conditions and the decline in consumer credit.

The contraction in government was entirely of a consumptive nature, as investments grew. The growth in public investment was driven mainly by the improvement of Curaçao's road infrastructure. The increase in net foreign demand was the result of imports dropping at a faster rate than exports.

Tromp said both Curaçao and St Maarten needed to address the rigidities in the labour market and reduce the cost of doing business. Because of the implementation of the debt relief programme, among other things, the money market of the monetary union has been characterised by high liquidity for some years.

"Therefore, the weak development in private investments in both countries is not due to a lack of capital, but to a lack of investor confidence affected by political instability, policy inconsistencies, and uncertainties in both Curaçao and St Maarten," he said. "Both governments need to focus on restoring investor confidence to achieve gains in private sector investments and, hence, a higher and sustainable growth path.

"The lacklustre growth performance of the islands during the last few years is not sufficient to bring the high unemployment to a socially acceptable level and to create the necessary fiscal room to address other social needs. To bring us to a higher growth path, a reform agenda has to be adopted and implemented, including educational, labour market and business climate reforms.

"This means that rather than being distracted by issues that run counter to these objectives, policymakers should direct their attention at promoting growth through appropriately designed growth policies," he said.

Growth cannot be achieved it the current monopolistic structure in key sectors of the economy are not addressed.

Also at the presentation were Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten staffers Linda Hassell and Dwayne President of the St. Maarten office, and Ersilia de Lannooy, Shelwyn Salesia, Alberio Romero, Gregory Damoen, Eric Matto and Nancy van der Wal of the head office in Curaçao.

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