PHILIPSBURG–On Friday, the Court of Appeals ordered the prosecution of Member of Parliament (MP) and former high-ranking civil servant at the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure Claudius Buncamper related to a limited number of crimes, including the alleged mismanagement of the sanitary landfill, the “Dump”.
Based on the Constitution of St. Maarten and the National Ordinance for Prosecution of Individuals with Political Authority, the Prosecutor’s Office can only prosecute individuals with political authority after an order to that effect has been issued by the Court.
Following the results of an extensive criminal investigation codenamed “Ruby”, which was carried out since July 2018 by investigators of the Kingdom Detective Cooperation Team RST under authority of the Anti-Corruption Taskforce TBO of the Prosecutor’s Office, prosecutors submitted a request for such an order in May 2020.
The Ruby investigation focuses, among other things, on criminal acts related to the tendering process of contracts for the management of the St. Maarten landfill. Alleged mismanagement of the landfill may have resulted in health risks for the community of St. Maarten, the Prosecutor’s Office said.
The suspicion, as far as Buncamper is concerned, focuses particularly on administrative corruption, such as the acceptance of bribes, abuse of authority, forgery and the misuse of public funds for personal purposes.
The Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday – in which it did not mention Buncamper by name, but spoke of “an individual with political authority on St. Maarten” – that the Court of Appeals is of the opinion that there are sufficiently substantiated grounds to consider him a suspect in relation to these crimes.
According to the prosecution, the Court ruled that the Prosecutor’s Office had not acted lightly when deciding to submit its request to further prosecute the suspect. Also, according to the Court, there is no question of political motives that formed the basis for submitting such request. Finally, there are no grounds of general interest that should lead to refusal of the request by the Prosecutor’s Office, the statement read.
As a result of Friday’s ruling, the Prosecutor’s Office has started preparations for the next phase in the Ruby investigation, in which Buncamper will be summoned to appear before a criminal judge.
“Clarity regarding alleged corrupt and fraudulent acts of an individual who is part of the public administration is in the interest of both the community of St. Maarten and the suspected individual alike. It is important for a well-functioning democratic society that citizens have confidence in public administration. Administrative corruption is a multi-faceted phenomenon that occurs typically when public and private interests converge. Corruption has strong disrupting effects: it undermines the integrity of the government and leads to unfair commercial competition. For this reason, TBO takes indications of corruption very seriously and, if necessary, has them thoroughly investigated,” the Prosecutor’s Office said.
Buncamper, who is an MP for United St. Maarten Party (US Party), said he is the victim of an abusive justice system. “The systemic abuse in our justice system is unbelievable and deeply rooted. From the outset, certainly office holders in St. Maarten fight an uphill battle against charges that going forward do not even have to be presented to them. While I just finished a 10-year battle that resulted in acquittals, I now have to start preparing once again for a battle that will most probably go all the way to the Supreme Court once again.”
He was informed of by the Court of Appeals on Friday that the Prosecutor’s Office had been granted permission to start prosecution against him for crimes he allegedly committed while serving as a civil servant.
“This abusive system also seems intent on charging or tarnishing elected officials with bogus charges against which someone cannot defend themselves because they are not presented with the evidence. You are guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around, in a kingdom where we hold human rights and democratic principles high. Time will tell how political the case is and will be,” he said in a reaction.
Bron: Daily Herald