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DH | Multi-million-dollar St. Maarten Crime Fund lacks financial administration and policy plan

HomeLandenSint MaartenDH | Multi-million-dollar St. Maarten Crime Fund lacks financial administration and policy...

PHILIPSBURG–“There has been no indication of any activities on this measure.” This statement pertains to the restructuring of the Crime Fund St. Maarten as mentioned in the report on the implementation of the Country Package for St. Maarten 2024, which was recently published.

From this report there appears to be no policy plan, no manual and no administration set up for the Crime Fund St. Maarten.

  The Crime Fund St. Maarten is essentially an account at a local bank where the Prosecutor’s Office deposits traffic fines, other fines issued by the police that have been collected from offenders, monies seized from criminals, and proceeds from auctions of cars, boats, real estate, jewellery and other luxury items seized from criminals.

  The Crime Fund is currently short by approximately two million Netherlands Antillean guilders in fines yet to be collected, US $5 million from Theo Heyliger as per his settlement with the prosecutor in the “Larimar” case pertaining to bribes and money-laundering for which Heyliger is currently serving five years in prison.

Convicted harbour consultant O’Neil Arrindell, who recently lost his appeal to the Supreme Court in the Netherlands in the “Emerald” case related to large-scale fraud in Port St. Maarten, has to repay $2,330,000 and former United St. Maarten Party leader Frans Richardson is required to pay NAf. 192,690 to the Crime Fund as restitution for unlawfully-acquired gains during his parliamentary tenure.

  The capital sum on the St. Maarten crime fund account is to be invested in crime prevention initiatives, including projects for the re-socialisation of convicts who have served their prison terms, education programmes for inmates, drug rehabilitation programmes, projects aimed at reducing youth delinquency, shelters and food programmes for the underprivileged and, for instance, research to identify animal cruelty as a precursor to violent crime.

  Before 2010, the former Dutch Antilles had a Crime Prevention Fund based on a National Ordinance that served five islands. After Curaçao and St. Maarten became autonomous islands on October 10, 2010, these islands adopted the former national ordinance for their own purposes. According to this law, the Minister of Justice manages the fund. The minister must submit a policy plan annually when presenting the budget to Parliament, indicating the projects eligible for financing in the budget year. Unlike Curaçao, St. Maarten has not presented a policy plan and list of projects in the past 14 years.

  When asked about the status of the Crime Fund in April 2022, former Minister of Justice Anna Richardson responded that there was about NAf. 1 million in the Crime Fund account. She said she was not able to say how much money had been invested in crime prevention or what projects had been funded under her leadership.

  However, at the time, April 2022, Richardson announced the start of the restructuring of the St. Maarten Crime Fund, a project which would be carried out by the Government Accounting Bureau SOAB. “The project has an estimated execution period of six months, with various deliverables, including the legislative process, throughout that period,” said Richardson, who claimed she recognised the great value of a well-managed Crime Fund. “These funds, collected from fines and criminal seizures, are used for initiatives to combat and prevent crime in the community of St. Maarten.”

According to Article 3 of the Kingdom Act Law Enforcement Council, this Council is charged with inspection of the Crime Fund. In 2019, the council inspected whether, since 2010, funds from the St. Maarten Crime Fund had been allocated to projects for which the Crime Fund is intended.

The council’s conclusion was that, even with a broad explanation of the notions “project” and

“combating crime”, there had been hardly any expenditure made as envisaged by the legislature with the Crime Fund. Opportunities for the development of crime-combating by means of projects had remained largely unexploited, the council concluded.

  On December 22, 2020, St. Maarten and the Netherlands signed a mutual arrangement for the implementation of the country package for St. Maarten. The aim of the project under country package measure H.12 titled “Improvement of the Management of the Crime Fund” is to enhance the organisational structure of the Crime Fund.

  Recognising the importance of the mutual agreement, Richardson said at the time: “One of the first obligations in this regard was to designate an independent organisation to monitor the Crime Fund for the implementation of the recommendations from the reports of the Law Enforcement Council and to report on whether the fund is functioning properly.

“In addition to making the necessary improvements to the management of the Crime Fund, the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministries of Finance and General Affairs, will also be focusing on improving the process of fine-collection to increase the available funds of the Crime Fund.”

  According to Richardson, the project to restructure the management of the Crime Fund would result in “a Crime Fund with stable management that relies on a well-described administrative organisation with unambiguous processes and procedures for those wishing to apply for funding from the fund.”

  However, the authors of 2024 report on the implementation of the country package, published on May 9, 2024, in the name of Prime Minister Dr. Luc Mercelina and State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Alexandra van Huffelen, awarded St. Maarten several red flags pertaining to the status of the Crime Fund “restructuring”.

  Despite the assignment of SOAB to the Crime Fund in 2022, two years later the authors of the inspection report concluded that no financial administration had been set up. Contrary to her announcements, Minister Richardson did not present a policy plan or a manual for the management of the fund. Furthermore, the inspectors found no evidence of an implementing organisation having been established and trained. A Crime Prevention Steering Group, planned based on earlier agreements, was not set up. Finally, the evaluation of the Crime Fund had not been completed.

  The inspection report comes on the heels of the second follow-up inspection into St. Maarten Crime Prevention Fund published by the Law Enforcement Council in 2023. The Council concluded that the state of affairs had remained unchanged: in 2022 none of its five recommendations had been followed. The recommendations centred on consistent implementation of legal obligations; drawing up current policy; laying down rules and guarantees in a national ordinance in connection with risks; publicity for the fund; and the improvement of physical and digital administration.

  In the context of strengthening the rule of law, the St. Maarten Country Package (2020) includes as a measure that the management and supervision with regard to the Fund must be put in order, the Council said. “To this end, St. Maarten should follow the recommendations that the Council previously made with regard to the Crime Prevention Fund. An independent body also had to be appointed to monitor compliance with the agreements. At the request of the Minister of Justice [Minister Anna Richardson – Ed.], the Council is that independent body and carried out the second follow-up inspection in 2022.”

  When asked about the Crime Prevention Fund during the Council of Ministers press briefing on May 29, 2024, current Minister of Justice Lyndon Lewis said he had seen a document that indicated “mishandling of the funds” by the previous administration. A thorough investigation needs to be conducted, Lewis concluded

Bron: Daily Herald

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