PHILIPSBURG–Members of Parliament (MPs) are not convinced that three pieces of draft legislation presented by Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever to tackle gaps in the country’s laws on money-laundering and combatting of terrorism-financing will be beneficial to residents.
The changes presented in a Central Committee meeting on Friday related to the Penal Code and the Civil Code.
If not adopted by Parliament by November, St. Maarten faces a public statement from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) commonly referred to as being placed on a blacklist. That list will outline all of the shortcomings of doing business with a non-compliant country and could result in serious economic and other consequences for St. Maarten.
Justice officials told Parliament non-passage of the laws would label St. Maarten as “high risk and non-cooperative” with international standards.
The changes to the Penal Code, among others, seek to increase penalties for money-laundering from the current maximum of six years’ imprisonment to eight years. Jail time for financing of terrorism is also to be added to the Penal Code.
Some changes give more powers to the Prosecutor’s Office in cases of money-laundering and combating of terrorism-financing. MPs were weary of giving more power to what they perceived as an extension of the Dutch government meddling in local affairs.
As for the changes to the Civil Code, those seek to give the Chamber of Commerce and Industry the authority to deregister suspect businesses.
Non-profit associations and foundations will also be required to produce annual financial statements to show source of funds and their donors, should the regulations as presented be adopted by Parliament. The reasoning for this is that FATF has determined, in general, that non-profits can be used to “clean” ill-gotten funds. Board members can also be removed if suspicious activities are found.
MP Christophe Emmanuel (National Alliance) was one of the several MPs speaking out against the law changes as is. He questioned whether St. Maarten or any St. Maartener has ever supported a terrorist organisation. He cited that several Trinidad and Tobago nationals have become ISIS fighters, yet their country has not been blacklisted.
MP Rolando Brison believes some of the changes have other roots, referring to possible infiltration of the Dutch government into the local justice system, aside from the recommendations of the FATF. He requested that justice officials create a document outlining, side-by-side, the changes stated necessary by FATF and all changes government has put into the draft laws.
MPs, in general, reiterated their frustration with banks closing accounts of residents or demanding what they see as invasive private information to keep accounts open.
The law changes are derived from FATF recommendations and were built also on the premise of uniformity for Dutch Caribbean countries. Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten are presided over by one common court; uniform laws make the judiciary process streamlined across international borders.
MPs want to have a discussion with Aruba and Curaçao on their takes on the pieces of legislation before going forward. They also want to meet with local stakeholders such as the St. Maarten Bar Association and the police to get their input.
Minister De Weever will be back in Parliament in the near future to address the MPs’ concerns and answer their questions. He will go with the hope that the legislature will pass the law on to a plenary session for adopting and implementation ahead of FATF’s November deadline.
Bron: daily Herald