The Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP) building in Cannegieter Street.
~ Including $200k in political contributions to Ohndhae ~
PHILIPSBURG--Two witnesses testified under oath in open court on Wednesday as part of former Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson’s appeal of his 2021 conviction for bribery and abuse of position in the so-called “Aquamarine II” investigation.
The court will now determine whether these witnesses are trustworthy.
In the Aquamarine II case, the Court of First Instance found Richardson guilty of having requested substantial sums of money from construction company Taliesin for repairs of damage caused by Hurricane Irma to the “LEA building”, in which government-owned agency Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP) is located.
In exchange, the lower court ruled that Richardson had 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.
In response to a question by the solicitor general, one witness C.C. (64) – owner of construction company Taliesin – told the court that he did pay a large “commission” to Richardson to obtain “work” on the so-called LEA building.
On Wednesday, C. was also asked whether he would have paid the approximately US $80,000 if Richardson had not approached him. “I don’t think so,” was his reply.
Richardson’s lawyer Jairo Bloem grilled this witness for about 1½ hours, seemingly in an attempt to cast doubt on his reliability. To most of Bloem’s questions, C. replied with, “I cannot remember.”
However, during the questioning, C. said that he had also paid “commissions” of $400,000 to former MP Patrick Illidge and $100,000 to the late former MP Roy Marlin for “their assistance in getting the sale of the LEA building through the Council of Ministers.”
C. bought the LEA building in December 2011 for $700,000. He refurbished the building and sold it back to BTP in February 2013 for $6.6 million.
Around this time, C. said he also paid about $200,000 in political contributions to Cloyd “Ohndhae” Marlin, the son of current National Alliance (NA) MP William Marlin.
When asked if Cloyd Marlin had asked for the money in exchange for “work” in getting the sale of the LEA building approved, C. said he could not remember. This was also his answer when asked if William Marlin had done something to receive the donation.
“In a previous statement [to authorities – Ed.], you said the only political person you paid commission to is Frans. Now you’re saying you gave to other politicians. Which [statement] is correct?” Bloem asked the witness after these revelations.
“As you go through things, you remember them,” said C. “I’m not lying.”
The other witness questioned during Wednesday’s hearing was entrepreneur Leonardo Bromet (55), who testified that he falsely accused Richardson in previous statements to authorities.
In an initial police interview, Bromet told investigators that the $20,000 in cheques from Taliesin that he cashed were down payments for jobs.
However, Bromet changed his tune in a subsequent interview, saying that Richardson had asked him to cash the cheques and deliver the bank notes to him.
On Wednesday, Bromet told the panel of three appellate judges that Richardson was not the one who asked him to cash the cheques. Instead, it was then-BTP Director Anthony Carty who handed him the cheques and took the money afterward, according to the witness.
When asked why he did not point the finger at Carty from the beginning, Bromet said he wanted to protect Carty because they are “close friends and family”.
Investigators had also pressured him into implicating Richardson, according to Bromet.
“It was like they came to the interrogation only to confirm their suspicions,” he said.
Several times the chief judge and the solicitor general asked Bromet about his reason for implicating Richardson at all, given that he could have just stuck to his story that the payments from Taliesin were for forthcoming work.
“It just came to me at that moment,” Bromet said to one question. To others, he reiterated that he was protecting Carty.
When asked what he thought the money was for, Bromet told the court that he believed it was a political donation because at the time parties were busy campaigning for election.
In December 2022, the Court of First Instance sentenced Bromet to three months’ imprisonment for perjury. This stemmed from his initial declaration that the Taliesin cheques were a down payment.
The lower court found Bromet guilty based on the statements by Taliesin owner C. and the company’s business administration, but it was not found proven that he had personally handed over cash money to Richardson.
In addition to being found guilty of receiving bribes for BTP’s repair work, Richardson had been convicted by the lower court in 2021 for abusing his political functions as a member of the parliamentary committee of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) and the Committee of Finance to gain personal benefit.
Also, Richardson participated in a contract between Advanced Communications and Technology Services (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.
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 said in its verdict, adding that Richardson had received dividends from ACTIS.
As an MP and member of the parliamentary committee for 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 stated.
For these crimes, the lower court sentenced Richardson to 12 months in prison 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.
The “Aquamarine” conviction followed Richardson’s 2020 conviction in the “Emerald II” investigation into corruption and bribery at Port St. Maarten.
In this case, the lower court found Richardson guilty of money-laundering, tax fraud and for accepting bribes with a total value of $370,000. He was sentenced to 36 months in prison.
The appeal trial in the “Aquamarine II” case is scheduled for today, Thursday. If the trial does not wrap up by the end of the day, it will continue on Friday.
The Prosecutor’s Office said earlier this year that Taliesin owner C. and then-BTP Director Carty are also suspects in the “Aquamarine” case, but that authorities have yet to decide whether these two men will be brought before a judge or if out-of-court settlements may be reached.