PHILIPSBURG--In the absence of O’Neal Arrindell, who his lawyer said, chose not to appear in court for Wednesday’s procedures, the Court of First Instance dealt with the dispossession claim filed by the Prosecutor’s Office against the businessman for his involvement in the “Emerald” case, concerning large-scale fraud at Port St. Maarten.
The Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals both found Arrindell guilty of bribing then Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson. He was also found guilty of firearm possession and tax fraud. In June, the Court of Appeals sentenced Arrindell to 40 months, with deduction of pre-trial detention.
Arrindell was found guilty of defrauding St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies (SMHGC) in cooperation with Devcon TCI Ltd. and others, of approximately US $3 million between July 2012 and June 2014.
In sentencing, the Court followed the Prosecutor’s Office opinion that the fraud involved forged documents pertaining to “mobilisation cost” and “general conditions” charged to the Harbour in connection with dredging work by Devcon, while these in fact served as payments to Arrindell, who had used $370,000 of the amount to bribe MP Richardson.
In the Prosecutor’s office’s opinion, Arrindell had defrauded the harbour to enrich himself. The Prosecutor’s Office initially claimed $5 million, but because the Court of Appeals considered fewer charges proven, prosecutors lowered the amount to $2,330,000.
Arrindell disagreed and said he had worked for the money and that the payments were in fact fees. However, according to the prosecutor, the costs were never made but were still invoiced to the Harbour.
“Costs not incurred are the core of scams,” the prosecutor said Wednesday. “The crime committed is fraud by means of false invoices. The only work Arrindell would have done to speed things up was to pay bribes to Frans Richardson.”
The prosecutor arrived at the conclusion that the payments received by Arrindell were obtained through crime and benefited Arrindell, except for the bribes he paid Richardson.
The Prosecutor’s Office claimed $2,330,000 in “illegally obtained advantage.” In case of non-payment Arrindell would have to spend three years in prison if it were up to the prosecutor.
Attorney-at-law Niels van der Laan, who attended the hearing via video conferencing from the Netherlands, stated in his pleadings that the existence of false invoices and the payments made on these invoices were insufficient evidence to consider fraud proven. He said this would be the main argument of his client’s cassation case in the Supreme Court in The Hague.
“Former chief executive officer of the Harbour Mark Mingo has indicated that he knew that Devcon had paid and that the Harbour had obtained the dredging project against a fair market price. The project had to be carried out with speed because the largest cruise ship in the world was to port in St. Maarten. This was an essential project for the Harbour and Devcon, and Arrindell’s mediation therein, were necessary,” Van der Laan said, adding that Mingo was “explicitly” acquitted by the Court of Appeals of forgery in cooperation with Arrindell.
In its verdict, the Appeals Court also did not mention non-incurred costs, but “costs passed on to the port under a false denominator,” the lawyer said.
According to Van der Laan, the port has not been defrauded, does not feel scammed and has not reported any fraud. “There is no illegally obtained benefit. What would Arrindell have been worth then? A million cannot be regarded as an illegally obtained advantage,” Arrindell’s lawyer claimed. The judge will give his decision January 10, 2023.