The Hague is concerned about undermining criminality; St. Maarten isn’t – StMaartenNews.com – News Views Reviews & Interviews

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PHILIPSBURG — “There are many indications that the underworld and legitimate society in St. Maarten are structurally intertwined.” On September 11, 2015, this statement by Attorney-General Guus Schram enraged Justice Minister Dennis Richardson. “Prove it or shut the hell up,” he said at the time. The parliament was not amused either.

Almost three weeks after Schram’s statement, on September 30, the parliament passed a motion that asked “the competent authorities to invite Schram to resign. ”The motion contained statements like “St. Maarten consists of God-fearing law-abiding citizens” and “the lack of action by the office of the attorney-general to investigate suspicious crimes perpetuates rumors of criminal activities in St. Maarten.”

The motion was signed by all fifteen parliamentarians. Among them: current Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, MPs Frans Richardson and Theo Heyliger (in the meantime both sentenced for bribery), and MP Silvio Matser (sentenced for tax fraud and election fraud).

Seven years later documents released by the Dutch  Ministry of Home Affairs and KIngdom Relations under the Public Information Act to René Zwart’s website dossierkoninkrijksrelaties.nl show that Minister Richardson’s anger must have been a play-act.

Why? Eight months before Schram made his statement, on January 15, 2015, he had given a presentation about the state of law enforcement on the Caribbean islands at the Judicial Four Country Consultation (JVO).

Justice Minister Ard van der Steur wrote in July to Schram: “During the JVO of January 15 you made an impressive presentation about the fight against criminality. Especially the level of undermining and intertwining of the underworld with legitimate society gives us reason for serious concern. The impression you created in your presentation was in general acknowledged by the ministers who were present during the presentation.”

In other words: Minister Richardson must have been at least aware of the way the office of the attorney-general looked at the state of law enforcement on the islands. Schram’s statement in the courthouse in Philipsburg cannot have come as a big surprise.

Dossierkoninkrijksrelaties.nl requested on January 6, 2022, under the Public Information Act documents related to law enforcement in the Caribbean part of the country. The Ministry of Home Affairs found 59 documents that are relevant to the request and it released most of the information.

The participants in the JVO opted in January 2015 for a multi-annual, fundamental and broad approach to the strengthening of law enforcement in the Caribbean countries.

On May 24 of that year, Minister Richardson signed a protocol in The Hague that contained agreements on the establishment of the integrity chamber and the strengthening of law enforcement in St. Maarten.

Before the JVO there was already a proposal for the strengthening of law enforcement in St. Maarten. “There is enough information to start several investigations,” the proposal states.

The integrity reports of PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Samson (better known as the Bob Wit-report) are cited as the reasons for the establishment of the anti-corruption taskforce TBO (Team Bestrijding Ondermijning). “The signals from these reports have been confirmed in practice: corruption takes place up to the highest level.”

A report about a TBO-meeting dated July 30, 2019, presents an optimistic view of the results of the anti-corruption taskforce: “The return on investment is high, about five times the investment.” The report also notes that the countries benefit from the TBO-investigations: “The countries have a clear interest because of the funds that flow into the Crime Fund.”

At the same time, the report states that undermining also has to be tackled by promoting a resilient administration. “Only this can prevent the undermining of democratic-administrative processes by criminality. In the current approach that is not guaranteed. Rotten apples are taken out, but checks and balances hardly improve.”

On January 28, 2020, a policy proposal saw the light of day in The Hague entitled Sustainable Undermining Approach Caribbean. One result of this proposal is that the TBO ceased to exist per the end of 2021. Its successor is called Sustainable Undermining Approach Caribbean (Duurzame Ondermijningsbestrijding Cariben), with DOC as its Dutch acronym.

The context of this proposal contains some interesting statements. It claims for instance that the TBO has brought to light the criminal involvement of politicians, civil servants, major government-owned companies, the collective sector and private enterprises in activities like corruption, tax fraud, forgery, fraud and embezzlement.

It furthermore notes that the intertwining of the underworld with legitimate society is “a serious threat to the proper functioning of the democratic constitutional state and that this has consequences for the society, the investment climate and the reputation of the kingdom, and with it the Netherlands, in the world.

Starting in 2025, the Netherlands will make an additional €13 million ($13.65 million) available for the fight against undermining criminality on top of the already available €12 million ($12.6 million); a total annual budget of $26.25 million. Within this budget €1 million is earmarked for the administrative fight against undermining.    

The establishment of DOC is considered necessary because corruption-investigations take a long time – up to and sometimes over eight years.

The DOC-proposal states that a lot has been achieved (since the establishment of the TBO) but that this is still only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. “The fight requires an integral approach, focused on administrative checks and balances and on triggering social resistance.”

All this was of no concern to Prime Minister Jacobs at the time when she was a member of parliament for the National Alliance. During the meeting in 2015 whereby the parliament unanimously passed a motion that called for the resignation of Attorney-General Schram, she said about the protocol Minister Richardson signed in May 2015: “No change will come from the protocol because it has nothing that needs to be dealt with.”

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Related links:
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Asset Recovery Team St. Maarten launched
Civil inquiry: more “rotten apples” at the harbor
Antilliaans Dagblad over ondermijnende criminaliteit
Haagse zorgen over ondermijnende criminaliteit in CAS-landen groot