PHILIPSBURG–Two men and a woman from the Dominican Republic who are standing trial for alleged involvement in a number of people-smuggling operations between St. Maarten and other islands in the Caribbean, including the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and United States Virgin Islands (USVI), in 2021, are facing prison sentences ranging from six to nine years, the prosecutor announced during Wednesday’s hearing in the Court of First Instance.
Suspects in the “Albatros” investigation N.R.P.H. (35) and the married couple J.M.C. (42) and M.J.P. (55), were all born in the Dominican Republic. The Prosecutor’s Office is holding them for people smugglers, but the couple claim they were involved in the fishing trade, whereas H. said he was a “gypsy” taxi driver and had only driven people, some of them Brazilians, Venezuelans and Haitians, “to the beach”.
The prosecutor said that H., nicknamed “Chiquito”, tried to “minimise” his role in the operations. “However, he is not only involved in all transports, but also in organising the trips. He knows more than he is willing to reveal here in court,” the prosecutor said.
The prosecutor called for six years against H., seven years against P. and nine years for C., for involvement in people smuggling and money laundering. All three will also be facing dispossession claims on their illegal proceeds in a separate court procedure, it was announced.
All three are charged with involvement in people-smuggling operations on September 18 and September 19, 2021, and November 19, 2021, and of laundering the proceeds of these criminal activities. However, they all proclaimed their innocence.
The three suspects were also held responsible for a failed illegal attempt to transport a group of persons from the beach at La Belle Creole in French St. Martin to the BVI or USVI on November 12-13, 2021. This attempt failed because they encountered problems with the boat and with the captain, who was drunk.
The prosecutor held C. for being the “leader and coordinator” in a people-smuggling attempt with a boat named Encounter with Dolphins, which was purchased by C. and P, from La Belle Creole to the USVI on November 19, 2021. In this operation, H. allegedly played a supporting role in collecting payments and in contacting the passengers for this trip.
Fish and conch
P. said she was selling fish and conch from her home on Back Street and claimed that money found during a search on the day of her arrest was earned by the sale of this merchandise.
P. was also charged with possession of child pornography consisting of a videoclip, which P. claimed a neighbour had sent to her phone. P. told the court it was a “mistake” that she had watched the video and had failed to remove it from her phone.
The prosecutor called for acquittals for C. and P. in the operation on September 18, 2021, in which four Brazilians were involved. H. was guilty of taking these persons to a “safe house”, according to the prosecutor.
Regarding the trip of September 19, 2021, in which one sailor disappeared after sailboat Sansade III capsized and sank near the BVI, the prosecutor said he held P. for the “true leader” of the people-smuggling business.
“This is really her business. At all costs, she wants more smuggling to take place. C. looks for people, a boat and fuel and gives instructions to the passengers. H. also knew about this and spoke with passengers,” the prosecutor said in his closing speech.
The evidence in this case is mainly built on telephone and WhatsApp conversations, which were found on a mobile phone which was in use by C., who said in court that many other persons also made use of this phone.
Boats, which were purchased for amounts of US $20,000 and $40,000, and repairs carried out on these boats, were not intended for people-smuggling but for fishing trips of their friend Noël, the three suspects claimed. However, Noël did not call C. in any of the wiretapped conversations, and his name was never mentioned.
Attorney Safira Ibrahim pleaded for C.’s full acquittal. The lawyer said her client denied the charges, as he claimed not to be involved in people smuggling.
The attorney also said that the death of a sailor in the operation of September 19, 2021, could not be ascertained as there is no death certificate. Ibrahim further pleaded that the money-laundering charges be dropped as the money involved in this case had no criminal source and was earned by the sale of fish.
The hearing will continue on November 25, when attorney Marlon Hart will be pleading for his client H. and lawyer Sjamira Roseburg on behalf of P.
Bron: Daily Herald