Ex-CBCS President in court on charges of fraud, money-laundering and bribery

Ex-CBCS President in court on charges  of fraud, money-laundering and bribery

Emsley Tromp

 ~ Lengthy prison sentence sought ~

WILLEMSTAD/PHILIPSBURG--In a court appearance in Curaçao on Tuesday, Emsley Tromp, former President of the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS), defended himself against allegations of fraud stemming from his involvement in the Curaçao Fashion Group (CFG). Tromp emphasised that he has meticulously maintained a separation between his roles, establishing what he described as “Chinese walls” to ensure ethical integrity.

Tromp is a suspect in the Hercules case. It focuses on how then CBCS President Tromp and 57-year-old René “Rennie” Lourents, then deputy director at CBCS, used a clothing company as a vehicle to enrich themselves. According to the Prosecution Service, they used their high ranking positions to commit criminal offences at the expense of the community of Curaçao. However, if proven, the damage will also be at the expense of the community of St. Maarten.

Both Tromp and Lourents appeared in court on Tuesday. The Prosecutor, in his formal accusation of the crime, argues that Tromp and Lourents, in their capacity as civil servants, requested and accepted gifts from others, that they subsequently attempted to conceal these by means of false loan agreements and ultimately laundered all the funds received.

According to the prosecutor, funds obtained were transferred to Tromp’s pension account and subsequently transferred to his investor account.

The Hercules investigation, which commenced on February 1, 2019, represents a renewed examination of a suspicion that had previously been part of the Saffier investigation, which started in 2016, aimed at exposing money-laundering. The Hercules investigative endeavour delves into the details of two specific credits/loans involving Tromp and Lourents.

Firstly, it concerns a credit or loan of US $400,000 extended from clothing store CFG to Tromp. Additionally, it involves a NAf. 2.4 million credit or loan provided by company Enpiso to clothing store CFG. These financial transactions are currently under intense scrutiny as authorities seek to uncover any potential irregularities or misconduct associated with them.

The initial report of suspicion, dated April 25, 2016, marks the beginning of scrutiny into the Hercules case. This report, along with two subsequent ones, has been incorporated into the Hercules case file.

In essence, the investigation stemming from the Saffier inquiry revolves around two key aspects: Firstly, it delves into potential money-laundering involving properties in Miami. Secondly, it examines allegations of official corruption concerning the $400,000 loan extended to CFG in 2009.

On June 22, 2016, the suspicion against Tromp was expanded in an additional report of suspicion. In addition to the aforementioned facts, there is also cooperation by a director in a prohibited transaction, following a declaration and interrogations by Rennie Maduro, the former chairman of the Central Bank Supervisory Board. This concerns the involvement of the Central Bank or Tromp in bonds issued by Port St. Maarten.

In 2017, it was decided to prosecute Tromp for tax offences at that time. This resulted in an acquittal. However, new suspicions of corruption arose following the loan granted between Enpiso and CFG. In this new investigation, called Hercules, it was decided to further investigate the aforementioned 2009 loan agreement between CFG and Tromp.

The prosecution acknowledges that the investigation has been prolonged, recognising that more efforts could have been made to expedite the substantive handling of the case between March 2022 and the end of 2023. Understanding the significance of this delay, the Prosecution Service intends to take the extended duration of the case into consideration when formulating its sentencing demands.

The Hercules investigation focuses on Emsley Tromp and his fiancée Yanet de Castro, and resulted in requests to the United States, Puerto Rico and Venezuela for legal assistance.

Tromp and De Castro became engaged in 2009. They jointly discussed the idea of setting up a clothing store. De Castro was working in real estate and, according to Tromp, business was not good due to the economic crisis at the time.

Tromp told investigators that his fiancée decided to go to New York to ask the Armani Group if she could exploit their brand Armani Exchange. She was successful, because on March 12, 2009, the legal entity Armani Exchange N.V. (AE) was established in Curaçao.

In a written statement, Tromp revealed that he often accompanied De Castro to her meetings.

The statement that De Castro made following her interrogation in the US immediately raised questions. She stated that at the time of opening the stores she had discussions with Tromp about whether or not she would become involved in the stores. They discussed together the possibility of De Castro becoming associated with the stores or continuing to work in the real estate industry.

Ultimately, De Castro continued to work in the real estate sector and never did anything for the stores. This statement is supported by the notarial deed of incorporation and registration with the Chamber of Commerce. This shows that Armani Exchange N.V. was not founded in 2009 by De Castro, but by Lourents, deputy director of CBCS. De facto, Lourents was the owner and later transferred 50% to Curaçao Fashion Group.

However, Lourents stated that the stores were only his stores on paper.

Tromp remained involved with Armani Exchange NV. According to himself, he conducted a feasibility study (at the beginning) and was involved in the clothing store’s next step: applying for financing from Banco di Caribe.

Tromp expressed an inability to recall any details regarding the discussions in question. However, he did acknowledge being aware of the close relationship between Fons Somin, CEO of Banco di Caribe, and the De Castro family.

Given that Maduro & Curiel’s Bank did not typically finance clothing stores, the decision for financing narrowed down to Girobank and Banco di Caribe. Tromp stated that he no longer remembers the specific reasons why Banco di Caribe was ultimately chosen for the transaction.

In the context of his role as director of the Central Bank, Tromp engaged in personal dealings with a bank under his supervision, which included providing advice on a feasibility study. Despite these actions, Tromp maintains that he had established “Chinese walls” between himself and CFG, to ensure a clear separation between his private affairs and his professional responsibilities.

Banco di Caribe extended a credit of 1.5 million guilders to finance two clothing stores, Armani Exchange and Adolfo Dominguez, located in the Renaissance shopping mall in Otrabanda. These stores were to be managed by Lourents, who also served as the ultimate beneficial owner (UBO). Notably, Tromp’s name was omitted from official documents as a matter of discretion.

However, witness statements reveal that the fashion stores operated under the CFG umbrella were not viable businesses. Continuous losses were incurred, with exorbitant interest charges accumulating each month. The financial situation deteriorated rapidly, with substantial debts accumulating and assets disappearing. By September 2010, even after De Castro’s departure, the outstanding debt amounted to a staggering $800,000.

During his interrogation in 2016, Tromp briefly mentioned that he had obtained a loan from AE/CFG to assist De Castro with her liquidity needs. Tromp explained that De Castro’s sources of income had diminished, leaving her burdened with debts such as back taxes and credit card obligations, among others.

As her fiancé, Tromp expressed a desire to alleviate her financial difficulties. He clarified that no formal agreements were established regarding the loan, and it was based solely on mutual understanding. Tromp anticipated that once De Castro’s businesses commenced operations, she would repay the loan.

However, De Castro departed from Curaçao in 2010. Lourents acknowledged awareness of a $400,000 loan from CFG to Emsley Tromp Pensioenen, Tromp's pension account. However, he confessed to not recalling any specific conditions attached to the loan or the purpose for which the funds were utilised.

Nevertheless, records indicate that on the day Tromp received the $400,000 in his account, he allocated $52,000 for personal credit card payments. Subsequently, a day later, Tromp transferred $300,000 to his investment account. These transactions raised questions regarding the utilisation of the loaned funds and their legitimacy.

The Prosecutor is convinced that the loan agreement is a false agreement. Based on the file, it has been determined that the $400,000 did not go to De Castro. Lourents, who was responsible for the store on paper at that time, never made a problem that these funds had disappeared from CFG.

Since the third quarter of 2010, the clothing store has been under the management of an in-store manager, experiencing continual losses almost from its inception. Despite efforts over the years, the financial situation did not improve, leading to a mounting debt owed to BdC. Faced with this escalating financial strain, the suspects were compelled to seek a solution.

By August 2015, the company’s debt had reached NAf. 2,264,292.92. However, a significant development occurred on September 8, 2015, when CFG’s loan from BdC was unexpectedly resolved. CFG received a sum of NAf. 2.4 million from Enpiso’s bank account at Activo International Bank (AIB), a subsidiary of Banco Activo in Venezuela.

The Prosecutor accuses both Tromp and Lourents of being guilty of bribery in association. Under count 2 they are accused of laundering the funds received from Enpiso in association and finally, under count 3B, they are accused of drawing up a false loan agreement in association, namely the loan agreement between Enpiso and CFG.

On May 26, 2014, executives of the AIB bank, Puerto Rico branch, landed in Curaçao. Tromp was also in Curaçao at that time. A confidentiality agreement dated July 3, 2014 was found on Tromp’s telephone. This agreement was signed by Tromp on behalf of the Central Bank. It states that Banco Activo (BA) is interested in obtaining information regarding the possible takeover of Girobank in Curaçao.

Following the transfer of NAf. 2.4 million by Enpiso, discussions regarding the takeover of Girobank ensued in subsequent meetings. These discussions notably included considerations about obtaining a banking licence, a prerequisite for the eventual acquisition of Girobank.

On December 22, 2015, just over three months after the transfer of funds by Enpiso, BA was granted the necessary banking licence by the Central Bank.

The Prosecution Service asserts that both Tromp and Lourents are culpable of official bribery, money-laundering, and forgery. Given the gravity and nature of the offences, particularly considering their positions and the amount involved in the bribery, the Prosecution Service contends that nothing less than a lengthy prison sentence will suffice.

The public prosecutor demanded unconditional prison sentences of respectively 3 years and 2.5 years, as well as a removal from office, and a disqualification of, respectively, 6 years and 5.5 years.

The Daily Herald

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