By Jacob Gelt Dekker – Opinion Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle
Over the last year, Nelson Navarro, Minister of Justice of Curaçao, stated publicly and repeatedly, that the island is in the grip of organized crime. He also offered some suggestions to improvement, like more law enforcement and policing the street scene. His major actions, so far, are based on a voluntary surrender of illegal firearms, an anonymous phone line for stool pigeons to rant out criminal activities, and police checkpoints. Direct confiscation of revenues received from crime, hidden in on- or offshore accounts, is not yet possible under the laws of the island. So, with an extremely low rate of arrest and conviction for most crimes, crime still pays and remains a low risk, high yield activity.
The ill begotten gains of criminals and illegal immigrants have to be laundered outside official supervision and Curaçao’s extensive shadow economy is eager to serve those customers. One of the oldest laundering methods on the island is land grabbing. For generations, illicit gains have been invested in real estate constructions on illegally annexed public land. An entire industry of shadowy contractors, and even corrupt civil servants, are at hand. The large numbers of undocumented workers on the island find easy employment in this underground construction industry.
Upright and diligent civil servants, trying to enforce the law, demand building permits and meet building codes, risk intimidation and harassment; inspectors’ cars, patrolling suspect neighborhoods, are often shot at, or their families physically threatened.
So the culprits get away with it. They annex public plots, build private residences, shops and small hotels, and even manage to get hook-ups to utilities, clandestine or legal; the trespassers of the law can count on relative peace and quiet. Legal problems usually arise when the properties are passed on to the next generation and notaries have to deal with legally, none-existing assets in estates. Authorities are quite accommodation in such cases and simply demand back leasehold payments and taxes to be paid, in exchange for legalization of the hijacked public plots, the illegal constructions are simply overlooked. Only a few beneficiaries follow suit and most prefer to continue dwelling in the realms of the shadow economy.
Recently, a governmental study was published detailing and inventorying land-grabbing offenses on Curaçao. Hundreds, if not at least over one thousand plots have been hijacked over a period of about 20 years and all plots spurt illegal constructions. The estimated numbers on capital employed differ from US $ 100 – 300 million dollars of laundered money.
Land grabbing and illegal construction is estimated to compromise at least 20% of the official and legal land transaction and construction economy and are firmly in the hands of criminals and illegal immigrants. If Minister Navarro is serous about his efforts to reduce crime, he should attack land grabbing, confiscate illegal assets and collect back taxes.
Let us take money launderers to the cleaners!
By Jacob Gelt Dekker