The arrest of Gerrit Schotte, leader of the political party MFK – Movementu Futuro Kòrsou – and his girlfriend Cicely van der Dijs was reason for the Antilliaans Dagblad to revisit Curaçao’s history since Schotte became the country’s prime minister.
The review reads like a bad crime novel, but it is still a worthy read, and maybe also a warning to other politicians that are tempted to bend the law. How did Curaçao arrive at the point where it is today?
There is a torn political landscape, an assassinated party-leader (Helmin Wiels) and attorneys like Eldon Sulvaran and Chester Peterson accuse anyone that comes to mind of corruption.
Gerrit Schotte stood on 10-10-10 together with then Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, Princess Máxima, Dutch Kingdom Relations Minister Piet Hein Donner and Governor Frits Goedgedrag at the Brion Square. As the leader of the new party MFK, he is the new prime minister of the newly born country Curaçao.
The PAR of Emily de Jongh-Elhage won the most seats during the elections but the young MFK forms an ad hoc coalition – not based on a common ideology but rather the opposite – with Helmin Wiels of Pueblo Soberano and Charles Cooper of MAN, the party Schotte left before the elections.
Wiels fast becomes the largest critic of this cabinet:
“This government robs in 16 months what the previous government stole in 16 years,”
he says more than once. He also promises Schotte that he will put him in handcuffs.
From the beginning, there are doubts about the screening of the ministers and its secret results and about the question whether the ministers meet the standards that are required for their positions. Schotte says at Fort Amsterdam that the governor has told him that everything is okay with the screening. This was not true, but Schotte knew that the governor could not defend himself publicly against his lies.
That there was something wrong with the screening became clear for the first time from a public court ruling involving the head of the security service, Edsel Gumbs, who was put on non-active duty by Schotte. The ruling is reason for the interim-head Lizanne Dindial to resign prematurely.
There are unconfirmed rumors about dozens of MOT-reports from the bureau for Unusual Financial Transactions that are linked to Schotte. Schotte dismisses everything. He even puts in writing that the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the MOT have inspected the reports and concluded that there was nothing wrong with them. Later it turns out that this was a lie.
Almost a year after the Schotte cabinet took office, the Rösenmoller Committee reports that a number of ministers should have never been appointed. The Parliament brushes the report aside, in spite of its title Do It Your Self – with a hint at the Parliament to clean up the mess. Schotte and former Justice Minister Elmer Wilsoe dismiss the report.
Wilsoe will later send a dubious letter to Washington in favor of the main suspect in the Bientu-investigation – lottery boss Robbie dos Santos, who supports the MFK financially, uses the same attorneys (Sulvaran and Peterson) and is also on the MFK-board. Wilsoe appoints both lawyers as his advisors.
There is also a relationship between Schotte and the Italian/Dutch casino king Francesco Corallo in St. Maarten. That these close ties exist is something they reveal themselves when Finance Minister George Jamaloodin – a half-brother of Dos Santos – announces that Rudolf Baetsen of the Atlantis World Casino Group will be appointed as the Central Bank’s chairman of the board. This plan triggers a lot of publicity and the appointment does no go through. Later, Schotte clashes with Central Bank President Emsley Tromp. In an impulsive mood, he shows illegally obtained private bank statements of Tromp during a live broadcast press conference on TV.
The leaked MOT-reports show clearly that there are financial transactions from Corallo’s BetPlus to Schotte or to his girlfriend Cicely van der Dijs.
In spite of the media-reports, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and Attorney-General Dick Piar do nothing for the moment while the (now former) head of the MOT, Kenneth Dambruck, is mad about the leaks. Schotte starts making wild accusations and says that this was an attempt by some members of the security service to overthrow the government.
Several citizens’ rights movements are not giving up. Fundashon Akshon Sivil and an independent operating citizen file complaints backed up by documents. Then it becomes clear that the prosecutor’s office, according to its own statements, has never seen or examined the MOT-reports before. In January 2013, the criminal investigation into this matter begins.
A half year earlier, the political pressure went through the roof and the MFK-led coalition lost its majority support in Parliament. Eugène Cleopa (MAN) and Dean Rozier (MFK faction leader) topple the government.
Schotte is outraged and later establishes the Reforma movement. Its objectives are amongst others to make stealing parliament seats impossible, to elect the Prime Minister directly – possibly to circumvent screening – and to give this function near unlimited powers. In spite of the lack of majority support, Schotte does not want to give up. Ivar Asjes, then thought to be the right hand of PS-leader Helmin Wiels, supports Schotte.
When the Schotte-government is literally fired and the Betrian-interim government sworn in, Schotte holes up in Fort Amsterdam with bodyguards and – as it appears afterwards – paid sympathizers. Schotte tells South-American media that a coup has taken place in Curaçao.
Coalition partner Wiels does not come to Punda; he even calls on his supporters to leave the Fort Square and to gather at the Pueblo Soberano party headquarters. While several PS-ministers, Wilsoe among them, are still at the government center, this is with hindsight probably the moment where Wiels turns his back on Schotte.
Wiels, Schotte and Cooper still enter the elections with the intention to continue with their coalition and they even win a majority. During the formation things go wrong when Schotte insists that he wants to stay on as prime minister.
The transition-cabinet Hodge succeeds Betrian’s interim-cabinet and since 2013 the Asjes-cabinet is in office. Asjes has turned away from Schotte completely in the meantime. Especially under Betrian and Hodge it becomes clear what a mess the country is in.
The government finances are in a shambles and utilities company Aqualectra, Curoil and at the refinery appear to have some skeletons in their closets. Schotte was politically responsible for all three of them. Oswald van der Dijs, an uncle of Schotte’s girlfriend Cicely and brother of the owner of the Vanddis gas stations, was their chairman of the board.
Without informing The Hague, Schotte attempts to land Francesco Corallo a never specified high function in Curaçao. Leaked documents show that the Italian authorities have informed the Kingdom that they know Corallo as a member of the mafia and as someone involved in drugs and money laundering.
Coalition-partner PS is not blameless either, because Minister Wilsoe intervenes directly in the criminal investigation against Robbie dos Santos (who finances both MFK and PS), by asking Washington to lift a lien on bank accounts in Miami that hold millions of dollars. Schotte does not intervene, also not when Wilsoe says he has lost confidence in Attorney-General Dick Piar.
On May 5, 2013, Curaçao and the rest of the Kingdom are in shock after the assassination of Helmin Wiels. Everything points towards a political murder.
When detectives search Schotte’s house and some offices in December 2013 some media report prematurely that this is linked to the assassination. The raids are however linked to the Babel-investigation. From that moment on, Schotte is a suspect, but he stays on as a Member of Parliament.
Later it becomes public that the detectives found the diplomatic passport Schotte held when he was prime minister; he reported earlier to the police that he had lost it. Detectives collect evidence linked to accusations of money laundering and forgery; they also confiscate documents about his special relationship with Francesco Corallo.
Recently attorney Sulvaran – known as the attorney of Dos Santos and as a member of the political pressure group KFO of which Elmer Wilsoe is also a member – filed a complaint against the Public Prosecutor’s Office on behalf of Schotte and Cicely van der Dijs about unlawfully obtained documents. Shortly afterwards Sulvaran said in a broadcast at Radio Mas that there is a need for a cleansing of the judicial system because it is possible to bribe prosecutors, judges and the attorney general. By then, Sulvaran has been busy for some time with accusations against fellow-professionals like the dean of the Bar Association, prosecutors, disciplinary judges and other judges and judges of instruction.
On May 20, the National Detectives Agency arrest Schotte and Van der Dijs. To be continued, we assume.