WILLEMSTAD–Former Curaçao Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte is trying to reverse his earlier conviction in the “Babel” appeal case that started Monday. His lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops called him “a politician with a huge ambition. He is creative, with innovative ideas and beautiful plans for the island.”
The Prosecutor’s Office on the other hand sees the MFK-leader as a corrupt money launderer who should be in prison right now.
Schotte was sentenced by the Court of First Instance in March last year to three years in prison on account of bribery, forgery and money laundering. In addition, the ruling prohibited him from standing candidate in elections during a period of five years.
According to the court, his personal interest was a priority when he was bribed for US $1 million by St. Maarten-based casino boss Francesco Corallo via Vanddis, supposedly in exchange for far-reaching political influence in the party. Italy-born Corallo, who is a Dutch citizen, allegedly even had a hand in the appointment of Ministers.
However, Schotte wants his sentence overturned. He will be imprisoned and see his political career suspended only if his conviction becomes irrevocable after the appeal options with the Joint Court and possibly the High Court in the Netherlands have been exhausted.
Van der Dijs is also appealing a lower prison sentence for her facilitating role.
A few months ago Schotte was involved in creating a “new majority” in Curaçao’s Parliament with dissidents of MAN and PAR to bring down the just-installed Koeiman Government. The latter promptly dissolved the legislature and called early elections before resigning.
The MFK-led transition cabinet then tried to stop this snap election, but to no avail because Governor Lucille George-Wout backed by the Kingdom Council of Ministers in The Hague intervened. Dutch caretaker Minister of Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk even spoke of an “attempted coup” and instructed the Governor to take over organisation of the election.
The voters thus returned to the polls on April 28 and the result again led to a Government including PAR and MAN, sending MFK back to the opposition benches.
Knoops tried to show a different Schotte, describing him as a “talented politician” who wants to change things in Curaçao by going against the political establishment. This existing order gave rise to the prosecution of Schotte because – according to the lawyer – the political and judicial apparatus are the same in Curaçao.
Knoops said the case really began after someone anonymously filed complaints against his client “motivated by gossip.” In his opinion that is absolutely incorrect.
However, it was Schotte himself who as Prime Minister had actually gotten the ball rolling by requesting the Kingdom Embassy in Rome to clear Corallo for a “high representative function” on his behalf. When the Ambassador checked with Italian authorities a so-called “red flag” had gone up, although the latter was never officially confirmed by the Government of Italy.
An e-mail exchange between Italian Prosecutor Roberto Pelicano and his counterparts in Willemstad subsequently took place on documents “of possible interest” to Curaçao found during an ongoing investigation regarding Corallo in Italy. Two Italian criminal law experts heard by the court Monday morning at the request of the defence said Pelicano told them he had not taken any initiative, but the three-judge panel saw no reason to doubt the version of Solicitor General Anton van der Schans.
Knoops also referred to the “customary” practice of campaign financing in Curaçao. What in the Netherlands could sound like a conflict of interest would be normal on the island.
Corallo is currently detained in St. Maarten awaiting his extradition to Italy for unrelated offences. His Dutch bookkeeper R.B. was also arrested, while authorities seized 120 million euros worth of property on the island from Corallo.
The Schotte couple’s appeal case continues today, Tuesday.