It annoyed me, the recent lobby letter written by the employers’ organisation VNO-NCW about financial aid to Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten. A group of famous Dutch people demanded that our country should not set conditions to this support. I understand that Hans de Boer, foreman of the large companies, took this initiative.
Many Dutch entrepreneurs, consultants and tax specialists earn a lot of money on the islands. The poor people on the island don’t benefit from that. However, I was amazed at the support for this lobby by Alexander Pechtold (D66) and Paul Rosenmöller (GroenLinks). Politicians who know the islands very well. Rosenmöller has even investigated corruption in Curaçao in the past.
The islands are rich, but the differences between the people are painful. If the Netherlands does not set conditions, that money will not reach the poor who desperately need the support. It doesn’t reach the people who have lost their jobs and the families where children haven’t got enough to eat.
George Jamaloodin became the first minister of finance of the new country of Curaçao in October 2010. Now this politician is in prison and has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for his involvement in the murder of MP Helmin Wiels, his coalition partner back then.
At the beginning of 2010 Jamaloodin had bribed the head of security of the secret service of Curaçao VDC. One month before Curaçao would become an autonomous country on October 10, 2010, Jamaloodin travelled to St. Maarten, together with this head of security at the VDC. They had a private meeting with Gerrit Schotte, the future prime minister of Curaçao; with Theo Heyliger, who was the most powerful politician in St. Maarten, and with Francesco Corallo, the Italian gambling boss. Schotte and Heyliger, meanwhile, have been sentenced to long prison terms for fraud and corruption. Corallo is on trial in Italy for large-scale fraud and bribing politicians.
I know about this remarkable meeting through reports I have received that show how, before October 10, 2010, criminals made plans to take over power in the autonomous countries of Curaçao and St. Maarten by a devilish trinity of the gambling industry, with ties to the Italian mafia, consultants, often from the Netherlands, and some local politicians that could be bribed.
The VDC was ransacked a year after Schotte came to power on Curaçao. All information was destroyed, copied or stolen. In addition, information from the Dutch secret service AIVD and the American secret service CIA would also have come into the hands of criminals. Schotte also tried to make Corallo or his financial right-hand man the president of the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten. This was prevented at the last minute, partly due to the actions of a number of Dutch Members of Parliament.
Relations between the Netherlands and the other countries of the Kingdom are bad, we must conclude 10 years after the autonomy of Curaçao and St. Maarten. The support that our country wants to give in fighting the consequences of the corona crisis has led to accusations against the Netherlands, mainly because of the conditions set on helping. Yet these conditions are not that strange, they must above all ensure that the money ends up with the people most affected by the crisis.
The Netherlands also requests that local politicians make a contribution by discounting their often very generous allowances. It is also requested that the many millionaires on the islands make their contribution and pay decent tax. That has not happened in the past 10 years. If the supporters of VNO-NCW were to behave more decently, the countries of Curaçao and St. Maarten would be financially healthier and could invest more.
In 2005, Minister Alexander Pechtold came to the Senate to speak to the senators about the future of the Kingdom. That year a referendum was held in Curaçao, in which the population had chosen not to become independent, but an autonomous country within the Kingdom. The same was the choice of the people in St. Maarten.
At the time I was a member of the Senate. Pechtold received questions about the negotiations and proudly said that the Netherlands had pledged more than two billion euros in debt restructuring. There was a deep silence in the small room in the Senate. An old senator took the floor and asked what the minister had in return. The answer came as a shock: nothing at all. No demands for good governance and good finances. After Schotte and his ministers took office, it turned out that no screening had even taken place.
In 2010 I voted against the new relations. I wholeheartedly wanted the people on the islands to have their autonomy, but I had no confidence in the future of Curaçao and St. Maarten, because the islands were just not ready for this. Also, because the relationship with the Netherlands remained unclear. These countries were autonomous and responsible for their own politics, but the Netherlands remained responsible for good governance and healthy finances.
It was not clear how we could fulfil that responsibility – and our country did not succeed. Money disappeared soon after Heyliger and Schotte came to power. The judge said in Schotte’s conviction that the prime minister had behaved like a “puppet” of the gambling industry. From bosses like Corallo, whose accounting was done for years and was approved by KPMG’s accountants.
On my initiative (in a proposal adopted in April 2015), a large-scale investigation started into the connection between the criminal and the political world on all the islands, in particular between the gambling industry and politics. This has partly led to Schotte and Heyliger being under lock and key and many other politicians, consultants and gambling bosses have also been convicted or have been subject of investigation (lately also in Aruba). This is important because the islands have no future as long as they are under the control of the criminal world. But it is especially bad that the Netherlands has let it come to this. That we made these autonomous countries 10 years ago and let them fall into the hands of criminals. That is a heavy responsibility for all politicians in the Netherlands, also for Pechtold and Rosenmöller.
In July 2015 I received a letter from Gerard Spong, a famous Dutch lawyer. He filed a lawsuit because I called his client Francesco Corallo a mafia boss. However, it never came to an actual case, because Corallo is a mafia boss. Corallo is now on trial in Italy for large-scale fraud and money-laundering and bribing politicians from the Berlusconi government.
I was not surprised that Corallo sent me that letter. Unfortunately, this kind of intimidation is common on the islands. However, I found it remarkable that the lawyer Spong lent himself for this intimidation of a Dutch MP. Many politicians on the islands will not stand up to this kind of scare. I know that there are many politicians in Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten who want the best for their beautiful island, but who no longer dare to speak freely in the last 10 years.
I wholeheartedly support the help that the Netherlands will offer to the other countries in the Kingdom, which we are obliged to our fellow citizens. But at the same time, we must put an end to the diabolical trinity of Antillean politics. As an MP, I have tried to make my contribution by tackling the gambling mafia, such as the research into politics and the gambling industry, and by addressing the consultants who make money laundering possible.
I am proud that KPMG was closed in the Caribbean last year. But it hurts me that we now have to solve problems that the Netherlands has also caused itself. The dirty gambling bosses, or the dubious consultants, are often people from outside and not from the islands themselves. A small wealthy group on the islands enriches itself thanks to bad governance. The poor population in particular pays the price for this.
In every government capital in the Kingdom they are thinking about the future. In The Hague, in Willemstad, in Oranjestad and in Philipsburg, everywhere the conclusion must be that we cannot go on like this. This Kingdom has failed and it is now up to the inhabitants to decide how to proceed. Let the inhabitants of the islands make a choice. What do they want their own politicians to do, and with what matters the Netherlands should no longer interfere? What tasks do they prefer the Netherlands to perform, whereby The Hague should also be given the opportunity to really do this?
In July last year, the Second Chamber passed my proposal asking all four countries to give their views on the Kingdom and who is responsible for what. With the support of the parties of Pechtold and Rosenmöller. I continue to advocate for help to those on the islands who deserve our help and support. At the same time, we will have to learn from the past mistakes.
Ronald van Raak
Member of the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber for the Socialist Party (SP)