PHILIPSBURG–“The results of the Ostrich investigations are an all-time low in civil corruption. It concerns a serious case today, a criminal case which in terms of seriousness is definitely in the top three of similar cases in St. Maarten,” the Prosecutor said Wednesday in his closing speech during the seven-hour hearing.
In total, six defendants, all members of the Immigration and Border Protection Service (IBPS) at Princess Juliana International Airport SXM, are suspected of human trafficking, bribery, accepting bribes and abusing their authority as civil servants. They are also charged with membership in a criminal organisation. The voluminous case file includes 12 separate cases. The Court will give its decision on Wednesday, August 2.
All suspects were arrested by members of the Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling Unit in conjunction with the National Detectives Agency. The Prosecutor said that never had so many civil servants been arrested in one single case.
“The severity points at the ease in which they [suspects – Ed.] abused their position to assist foreigners one after the other, by messing around with papers and stamps, and in providing them illegal entry. What is being presented to you today is only the tip of the iceberg,” the Prosecutor told the Judge.
The lengthy investigation, which started in April 2016, concerns the illegal admittance of foreign nationals, mainly from Jamaica, Haiti and Guyana.
The Prosecutor’s Office is of the opinion that suspects had been involved with these illegal activities for years. Suspect J.M. (37) said she had been introduced to the scheme by co-defendant A.A.D. (33) in 2015.
“The case file is full with wiretapped telephone conversations and WhatsApp chats about ‘jobs,’ persons who need to enter, about changing shifts and pictures in order to recognise travellers to St. Maarten, and how much money they had to ask,” the Prosecutor said in considering membership in a criminal organisation proven for all suspects.
“The Immigration workers knew how to find each other. It’s an oiled machine, in which they only needed half a word to understand each other. ‘This is my link,’ ‘I got a job,’ ‘Make sure you’re at departures,’ ‘A friend of mine enters,’ ‘I need a favour,’ were among the messages they sent to each other.”
Team leaders did not ask any questions when shifts were changed, the Prosecutor said in painting a picture of an organisation that seems to be driven by giving family members, relatives, friends, and friends of friends all kind of favours.
The Prosecutor said these crimes were in violation of the National Ordinance on Expulsion and Admission LTU to which the Immigration Officers had all sworn an oath.
The workers claimed they were entitled to admit persons who had “overstayed,” but according to the Prosecutor, the Minister of Justice is the only person to make such decisions.
In finding most cases proven, the Prosecutor called on the Court to ban all suspects from the IBPS or any other function within the civil service for five years.
In addition, he recommended a prison sentence of 24 months for main suspect J.M. Co-defendant K.L.M.B. would have to sit for 18 months and A.A.D. for 12 months, three of which were to be suspended, on two years’ probation, if it were up to the Prosecutor.
He called for nine months, six of which were to be suspended, and 180 hours of community service for D.M.M. (33) and B.M.B. (44).
All suspects denied the charges, expect for K.L.M.B. who confessed she had stamped her husband’s passport when he went looking for a job in neighbouring Anguilla and St. Kitts. However, her husband was an illegal resident in St. Maarten.
All lawyers pleaded for the full acquittal of their clients, except for Shamira Roseburg who said K.L.M.B.’s confession constituted one case of human smuggling, but not of bribery.
Several members of the defence stated that most of the evidence presented by the Prosecutor’s Office against their clients was circumstantial. Attorney Jason Rogers said the Prosecutor’s Office put up a lot of “smoke” to create confusion about the facts. “They just don’t add up,” he said.
Rogers said it had come as shock when he heard that his client was accused of human smuggling, as B.B.B. had been instrumental in filing a report against former Head of Immigration Udo Aron for leading an undocumented woman past Immigration in May 2016.
Rogers further stated that the Border Management System (BMS) had not been working since 2012, which rendered it impossible for Immigration personnel to verify whether someone was entitled to stay in St. Maarten, or not.
He also said there is a big difference between granting someone, for instance a tourist or a visitor, access to the country, and admission of a person who comes here to live and work.
According to him, Immigration workers are not authorised to deny any person entry to St. Maarten.
In defending K.L.M.B. and D.M.M., Roseburg stated that the case files were based on detectives’ assumptions and opinions.
She followed statements made by her colleague Cor Merx who had said on behalf of A.A.D. that there was a lot of misunderstanding about the question whether visitors to St. Maarten are allowed to stay for 30 days or for 90 days. According to Article 8 of the LTU, tourists are allowed to stay on the island for three months, said Merx.
Lawyer B.B.B. (41) is also suspected of involvement in the scheme, but her case will be dealt with by the Court at a later date. She is suspected of offering $200 to J.M. and K.L.M.B. to admit two persons into St. Maarten who were “overstayed.” B.B.B. allegedly had urged J.M. to not “give them a hard time.” B.B.B. allegedly had done this in her capacity as board member of insurance company NAGICO. The illegal persons in question were NAGICO employees.
Bron: Daily Herald