PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — “After being persecuted for five years for alleged money laundering and embezzlement and only after I demanded closure of the preliminary investigation and/or the case, I was acquitted by the Court of First Instance of all money laundering. I was moreover acquitted for four (4) of the eight (8) embezzlement charges and sentenced to one (1) day of jail time, conditional, with a probation term of also one (1) day for the remaining four (4) charges of embezzlement.
“This, whilst the Court of First Instance explicitly cleared me from having personally benefited in any way, shape or form from the established embezzlement cases, other than having partaken in an organized Christmas dinner for employees-of the Tourist Department and invited guests. The crime I committed was apparently that I ate and drank at said Christmas dinner.
“I was thus solely sentenced according to the Court of First Instance for contributing to the usage of funds destined for payments of general tourist expenses, for other government related expenses, namely maintaining the Tourist Bureau in New York. The Court of First of Instance thereby considered that for the charge of embezzlement to be legally proven, it is not required for someone to have personally benefited by acquiring goods/properties.
“The only reason why I was given a conditional sentence of one (1) day with an unusual probation term of also one (1) day is that according to the Court of First Instance it is by law not possible to find me guilty, without imposing some form of punishment.
“The punishment imposed by the Court of First Instance is a clear indication of its assessment of the culpability in this case. I have been taken through the wringer, made subject to the strong arm of the judicial force, for using funds from government to pay for other government expenditures, whilst the Sint Maarten Government structurally failed to timely fund the accounts for the New York tourist office as well as the local office It is not me who invented and sanctioned this payment form.
“This payment form found its birth in the mere necessity to have the New York tourist office remain operational, an office that catered to the backbone of the Sint Maarten tourism economy. I continued an established practice, sanctioned and known by the Sint Maarten Government for years that structurally funded that office too late. In essence, I have been investigated for five (5) years, prosecuted and now being punished for carrying out my duties as a civil servant and acting for the benefit of the Sint Maarten Government and public. While most of our visitors from North America come from the New York Tri-State area, the St. Maarten Tourist Office in New York was closed in 2010 and remains closed. Is tourism really our bread and butter?
“I have mixed feelings about this verdict. On the one hand, I’m glad to be acquitted of all the severe charges and feel vindicated by the fact that the Court of First Instance established that I did not profit in any way from using funds for a different public purpose than intended, an act that can still legally be qualified as embezzlement.
“I understand that using funds for a different purpose than intended, even if it’s used to pay for other tourist related government obligations, can in the opinion of the Court of First Instance also be qualified as embezzlement. On the other hand, I am not keen on having a criminal record, even one for a mere conditional one (1) day jail sentence, with a probation term of one (1) day that in practice will cease to exist, one day after the verdict becomes irrevocable, unless I’m found guilty of committing a crime that same first day after the verdict becomes irrevocable. I fought hard to redeem my good name and honor and for principal reasons, I am considering filing a partial appeal. The main question that remains that in my opinion has not been, satisfactorily and/or sufficiently answered is if one can be guilty for doing his work, as approved by direct superiors and accepted not to say institutionalized by their employer, in this case the Sint Maarten Government.
“I also must wonder in looking at the verdict that was handed down why I had to be persecuted and shamed for the last five (5) years for personally benefiting from public funds and why the Public Prosecutor found it necessary to subject me to the full force of justice for matters that are, by lack of other means, now punished with a one (1) day conditional jail sentence that will go away in one day.
“The Public Prosecutor office cannot convince me that they were really after me. From the onset and certainly the questions posed to me during the investigation it is obvious that they were trying to get at –a- highly placed official(s). The million dollar questions remains, was this case really necessary and was it fair to succumb me to through criminal persecution for obvious alternative motives/purposes?
“Today the Public Prosecutor can say, apparently even without shame, that she is glad with the outcome. Glad with an acquittal for all money laundering charges a dismissal of 4 of the 8 embezzlement charges and a symbolic sentence of 1 day for using government funds for other government purpose. The public prosecutors sentiments should be taken with a grain of salt, certainly considering the enormous waste of tax payers money in persecuting me for 5 years in what for me has been an obvious attempt to try to get to others.
“During the last 5 years I suffered serious health issues –largely also- because of the constant harassment and stress of being the subject of a criminal persecution. For this harm done to me, I cannot be made whole.
“For 5 years I kept my piece and did not speak out. It is time that the Sint Maarten Public obtains a correct understanding of matters and hopefully starts asking itself if we as local Sint Maarteners, should continue to condone the misuse of our criminal prosecution system by in essence a small group of temporary contracted workers for in my opinion obvious attempts to influence the Sint Maarten Political landscape,” the statement from Edward Dest concludes.