PHILIPSBURG–During Wednesday’s hearing in the “Emerald” investigation involving fraud and bribery at the Port of St. Maarten, the lawyer of suspect O’Neal Arrindell expressed concerns about his client’s rights to a fair trial.
Arrindell is facing seven years imprisonment, which his lawyer said was a very high demand in a fraud case. He said the Prosecutor’s request for his client’s immediate detention in case of a conviction is in violation of the European Human Rights Treaty.
In October 2018, Arrindell and Chief Executive Officer at Port St. Maarten Group of Companies (PSGC) Mark Mingo (see related article) were charged with defrauding the Port out of a total of US $10 million. Arrindell is also suspected of bribery, tax fraud and illegal firearm possession.
Arrindell confessed to having had a gun in his possession during a house search on November 28, 2016. He said he had purchased the firearm to protect his family after word had gone out on the street that he had money stashed in his house. He also confessed to having made “mistakes” in not filing income tax.
Arrindell allegedly failed to file income tax between January 2012 and January 2018. He also failed to file turnover tax on behalf of his company Sun Than Scooter Rental, and profit and turnover tax on behalf of Supreme Transportation Corp. NV, Suntan Villa NV, Sun Corp NV and/or Caribbean Sun Corp NV, according to the Prosecution.
As to the other charges the suspect proclaimed his innocence. “I did not swindle and did not do any side-deals,” he told the Court in his final word.
According to the Prosecutor, investigations led to the suspicion that Mingo and Arrindell, together with other suspects, had allegedly defrauded the harbour of at least $8 million over a number of years by signing 272 invoices between April 2012 and July 2017 by one-man construction companies Rising Star Construction, Country Construction, KG Construction, Jazz General Operational and Contracting Company, Select Trucking Services, Emile Construction and Caviar Construction.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, these invoices for services rendered to the Port for trucking, clean-up and other work were forged and falsified. In the Prosecutor’s opinion, these paid invoices concerned activities that were in reality not or only partly carried out for PSGC, the former St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies NV (SMHGC), St. Maarten Holding NV or St. Maarten Cruise Facilities NV.
Arrindell allegedly divided the work among family members, friends and acquaintances, but according to his lawyer, his client had not been aware of any wrongdoing.
Mingo and Arrindell are also charged with defrauding SMHGC in cooperation with Devcon TCI Ltd. and others, out of approximately $3 million between July 2012 and June 2014.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, this concerns 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 and/or one or more of his companies.
“I’m a businessman to make some money. I did not swindle or did any side-deals. I only made money from Devcon, but did not take any money from the local boys [one-man construction companies – Ed.] ,” he told the judge.
In his three-hour pleadings, lawyer Niels van der Laan expressed concerns about his client’s right to a fair trial. The Prosecutor denied that Arrindell’s rights were violated in the investigation but the defence lawyer maintained that the Court should be taking his concerns into consideration in weighing the evidence.
Among other things, the lawyer’s concerns had to do with promises of immunity to witnesses in the Devcon case in the United States. Such promises are allowed under US law, but not in St. Maarten, he said. He also requested for the Prosecutor’s Office to hand over all Devcon documents to the defence and submitted a request for a “conditional postponement.”
‘Under a tree’
As to the merits of this case, Van der Laan said he was reluctant to draw the conclusion that the invoices submitted to the Harbour had been fake, as a sound business administration is a rare exception among one-man companies that operate from “under a tree.”
“The Prosecutor’s Office cannot prove that no work had been carried out for the invoices and also cannot prove that work had only been done partially,” the lawyer stated.
He said Arrindell had been a liaison between the harbour and the contractors and had on occasion assisted the contractors in drafting an invoice, adding that the invoiced amounts were “peanuts” for his client.
He said that the 1,000-page case file did not contain any evidence that money had disappeared in the direction of Arrindell and Mingo.
He said that Harbour CEO Mingo, who has a crucial role in this case, had not committed fraud. Also, the Port had never filed a report about any wrongdoing in the Harbour.
The contract for dredging work by Devcon, which according to the Prosecutor’s Office had landed $3 million in Arrindell’s pocket, had been closed against a “fair market value,” the lawyer stated. “Ethically we can say all kinds of things about Arrindell’s role as an “agent” but the project ran smoothly and the job was done on time, he said.
Arrindell’s lawyer, who described his client as the lookalike of “Mr. T” in the 1980s TV-show The A-Team, said his client was a “hustler” who angled in “commissions” left and right, “but you should not call that corruption. Everywhere where money can be made my client is in the front row,” said Van der Laan.
Pertaining to the bribery charge of $370,000, Van der Laan said this considered a loan to Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson. “Arrindell and Richardson are godbrothers, who know each other their entire lives. They trust each other. It concerns an undocumented loan from nine years ago, which has been partially paid off,” the lawyer said in submitting some receipts of return payments made between 2017 and 2019. The Court will rule in the cases of Arrindell, Mingo and Richardson on January 22, 2020.
Bron: Daily Herald