Court of Appeal rejects request for an inquiry in respect of the Harbour group of companies Sint Maarten

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~ Public Prosecutor’s Office explores options for cassation. ~

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten — On Friday 11 December 2020, the Joint Court of Justice (the Court) rejected the request of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to institute an inquiry on the corporate policy pursued by the Sint Maarten Harbour Group (the Port).

In 2016, the Public Prosecutor’s Office started a preliminary investigation in response to repeated signals from the community of serious malpractices and mismanagement within the Port. Based on the results, the Public Prosecutor’s Office submitted a request for an investigation on 1 September 2017, a so-called civil inquiry (civiele enquête).

According to the Court, at an earlier stage of the proceedings there were well-founded reasons to doubt the correctness of the corporate policy pursued by the Port.
However, now that the former chairman of the board has been dismissed, there is no evidence of other “rotten apples” within the organization (according to the Court) ánd the Port has implemented a number of organizational changes (which the Court considers as improvements), the Court is of the opinion that at this moment there are no longer indications of such well-founded reasons to assume mismanagement.

Moreover, the Court emphasizes to be less optimistic than the Public Prosecutor’s office that the work of researchers in the requested inquiry could lead to meaningful measures.
According to the Court, a survey like this of a number of Curaçao government companies, has yielded little in the past.

The OM regrets this decision. Over the past decade, the Port has been plagued by malpractices through which tens of millions of dollars have flowed out of the Port’s assets: money intended for the Sint Maarten community. Some of the malpractices – involving serious criminal offences – have already been the subject of criminal prosecution, for example in the investigations codenamed Emerald, Larimar and Draco.

According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, a thorough investigation into the causes of these malpractices is a first, but necessary step in order to be able to tackle the structural problems within the Port and prevent them as much as possible in the future. The actions of the former chairman of the board are only an exponent of deep rooted problems within the organization. These are not automatically solved with his resignation.

According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, clarity about the cause of the malpractices is essential to create solutions in order to be able to implement actual changes within the Port. Moreover, the community is entitled to transparency with regard to these malpractices.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office is currently investigating the possibilities for appeal in cassation at the Supreme Court.