PHILIPSBURG--Eight witnesses will be heard in connection with the appeal filed by former Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson against his conviction in the Aquamarine investigation.
On November 15, 2021, the Court of First Instance sentenced Richardson to 12 months and payment of criminal proceeds of NAf. 666,000 and NAf. 192,690. He was also banned from running for public office for three years.
In the “Aquamarine” investigation, Richardson was found guilty of having requested substantial sums of money from construction company Taliesin, or its contractor and owner of Low Price Lumber Hardware store, for repairs of storm damage caused by Hurricane Irma to the “LEA building” in which government-owned agency Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP) is located.
In return for the money, Richardson used his influence as a politician to ensure that Taliesin would be awarded contracts for maintenance and repair work for BTP and to expedite payment of existing contracts with BTP.
Also, Richardson participated in a contract between Advanced Communications and Technology Services NV ACTIS and BTP, which was closed March 16, 2012. ACTIS became the managing company of the numbering plan for St. Maarten as per June 15, 2012, the court said.
Richardson, through his shareholding in Caribbean Value Estate Ltd. (CVE) and CVE’s shareholding in ACTIS, had a financial interest in the contract between BTP and ACTIS, under which BTP made payments to ACTIS, the court stated, adding that Richardson had received dividends.
As an MP and member of the parliamentary Committee for Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT), Richardson was also a supervisor of BTP. He supervised the contracts closed by BTP with third parties, including ACTIS, and the financial consequences thereof, the court said at the time.
In addition, he abused his political functions as a member of the parliamentary Committee of TEATT and the Committee of Finance to gain personal benefit between March 16, 2012, and September 23, 2019, it was stated in the court ruling of November 17, 2021.
Among the witnesses to be heard on the request of the defence are C.C., the owner of construction company Taliesin, and A.C., then director of BTP.
Both men are also suspects in the Aquamarine case, but their cases have not yet been brought to court. The solicitor general said after Monday’s procedural hearing in the Court of Appeals that the Prosecutor’s Office is yet to decide whether these two cases will be brought before a judge, or if out-of-court settlements may be reached. “We are working on this,” the solicitor general said.
The case against another witness for the defence, attorney-at-law P.A.B., was withdrawn by the Prosecutor’s Office due to serious errors made in the criminal investigation of the lawyer and her law office.
In this investigation, St. Maarten lawyer B. was suspected of committing fraud, forgery and money-laundering. Searches were conducted at her home and law firm in late 2018 and early 2019 under the direction of the judge of instruction. During these searches, various documents and digital data were seized.
B. and the law firm filed a complaint against this seizure in the Court of First Instance, alleging that her right to privilege as a lawyer had been violated.
In the complaint procedure, which ran from late 2019 to November 2022, it emerged that several irreparable formal errors were made by the Prosecutor’s Office, the judge of instruction and the Kingdom Detective Cooperation Team RST in the seizure and further handling of B.’s and her law firm’s potentially privileged documents and data, the Prosecutor’s Office said in December 2022.
Prosecutors believed that the mistakes made were so serious that the Prosecutor’s Office considered the further prosecution of B inadmissible. Therefore, the criminal case against the lawyer was dismissed.
Two other witnesses were convicted of perjury. Late December 2022, Leonardo Cleophas Bromet and Khalil Kamal Revan were both sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for lying under oath.
During court hearings on September 30, 2021, and October 1, 2021, Bromet and Revan, who were questioned as witnesses by the judge in the Court of First Instance, were arrested on suspicion of lying under oath.
On behalf of Richardson, Bromet allegedly received and cashed a blank cheque from Taliesin of US $20,000 and Revan of $25,000. Both men denied they had been involved in cashing or handing over money to the former MP, but in Taliesin’s chequebook slips were found, in which the payments were booked as commission cost for Richardson, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
Contractor Bromet and consultant-engineer Revan claimed they had received the cheques for work or services carried out for Taliesin and remained with their statements given to the court.
According to the prosecutor, there was sufficient evidence in the case file that they had both willingly and knowingly given false statements about their involvement with payments to Richardson.
Bromet said he had been pressured and threatened by the police to give an incriminating statement about Richardson.
Revan denied any knowledge of BTP and said he was not directly involved with Taliesin. He said he had cashed the cheque to pay subcontractors and truckers.
Based on the statements by Taliesin’s owner and the company’s business administration, the court found that both suspects were guilty of perjury, but it was not found proven that they had personally handed over cash money to Richardson.
Richardson’s lawyer Jairo Bloem said during Monday’s hearing that he wanted to question the main suspects in this case, because they previously had appealed to their right to remain silent so as not to incriminate themselves during questioning by the judge of instruction.
According to Bloem, the prosecutor’s case against Richardson is “incomplete” and “focussed on a politician who has been punished while the cases against the other suspects, who are involved in business, have been dropped.”
Richardson said the Prosecutor’s Office is “playing a game” against him. “I should be acquitted,” he stated.
The Appeals Court allowed the hearing of all eight witnesses. It is not yet known when Richardson’s appeal case will be heard.