PHILIPSBURG–The Joint Court of Justice has denied the Prosecutor’s Office’s request to prosecute Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel, on Thursday, October 29.
The request was based on alleged wrongdoings by the then Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) pertaining to the issuing of plots of land between July 2017 and January 2018.
In a petition to the court filed by Attorney-General Roger Bos on April 21, 2020 during the coronavirus lockdown in St. Maarten, the Prosecution filed a request with the court for its permission to prosecute Emmanuel for abuse of his position between July 1, 2017 and January 15, 2018.
In that same period the then-minister had allegedly committed bribery in his capacity of a civil servant, and forgery between November 1, 2017 and January 15, 2017, according to the Prosecutor’s Office. All these crimes are punishable by law.
The case was handled by the Joint Court via teleconference on October 6, with the solicitor-general, Emmanuel and his lawyers Peggy-Ann Brandon and Safira Ibrahim present.
The MP’s lawyers pleaded with the court to declare the Prosecutor’s Office claims against the minister inadmissible or to reject the Prosecution’s requests. According to the defence, the investigation launched against their client was incomplete and based on “light-hearted” grounds.
Both lawyers indicated that investigation has been halted since January 2020 and that the Prosecutor’s Office had ample time to conduct a full investigation.
The solicitor general stated that although the investigation has not been fully completed, the investigation was at a stage where review by the Court was considered appropriate. He stated that the decision to prosecute Emmanuel was taken after a “thorough and balanced” investigation, which was not driven by any political motive.
The solicitor-general also pointed out that the issue of lease land in St. Maarten is a “tricky” issue, in which government’s actions must be “honest, transparent and predictable. This is all the more so because in the past the issue of ground lease has also been corrupted.”
According to the Joint Court, a request to prosecute a politician must be dismissed if there is no reasonable suspicion of guilt, or if such a decision was taken lightly or based on political grounds.
Based on documents in the “Begonia” investigation, the Court concluded that the results of this investigation may raise questions about the state of affairs surrounding the issue of certain leasehold land in St. Maarten, more particularly about the “form and content” of Emmanuel’s involvement in this matter.
However, these results are insufficient to conclude that Emmanuel has been guilty of misusing his position, of co-perpetrating in the forging of documents, and participation in official bribery. Therefore, the Court dismissed the Prosecutor’s Office request.
The solicitor general has qualified the issue of land allocation on St. Maarten as a “tricky one.” The Court understands that in his opinion (further) regulation in this area is urgently required, in particular where it concerns the actions of the government and its officials.
“Be that as it may, the criterion by which the Court has to determine a requests remains whether the documents in the file submitted to the Court are sufficient to support a reasonable presumption of guilt of one or more of the crimes as mentioned by the solicitor general,” stated the court.
Requests filed by the defence with the Minister of VROMI to obtain information and documentation on all long lease issuances over the years were never responded to, Emmanuel and his lawyers said in a joint press release.
‘Much can be learned’
The defence stated that in order for the issuance by Emmanuel in his capacity of VROMI minister to be wrong and a criminal act a comparison with issuances of all other ministers would be required. “This exercise was not done, and it was difficult to understand why in this case the issued parcels should be qualified as a criminal act,” they said.
“The Appeals Court considered the documentation brought forward by the Prosecution, considered the defence presented and concluded that the formulated suspicions could not be supported by the results of the investigation presented. The Court stated that it could not determine that the actions of the MP thus far could have brought the justified suspicion of having committed the crimes of which he was being accused.”
While pleased with the outcome, Emmanuel and his defence team stated that “much can be learned” from this investigation and the entire process.
“The MP pledges to use what he has learned through this process, namely how actions can be perceived, the need for policies and processes to be set, to make recommendations to government so that no other minister would have to endure what he has endured.
“This investigation has damaged his reputation, caused him to be condemned by the ‘public judges,” even before the prosecution started. Criminal investigations in St. Maarten are an instant condemnation by financial institutions, insurance companies and governmental bodies, all focused to eject subjects of investigations out of society. Convictions are no longer needed for this ejection-out-of-society process, so innocent until proven guilty is no longer the norm. This is another lesson learned, one with many aspects that will be addressed in the coming days by the MP,” it was stated.
Bron: Daily Herald