Published On: Sun, Nov 5th, 2023

Court rules: No bank account for Oduber’s company BCY Entertainment

ORANJESTAD — Arubabank is entitled to refuse opening a bank account for BCY Entertainment, a company of former Minister of Urban Planning, Infrastructure and Environment Otmar Oduber, the court of appeals ruled on October 31.

The Court in First Instance ruled in 2021 that Arubabank had to open such an account and the bank complied; but it appealed the ruling. BCY Entertainment is operating a food court in Aruba that consists of several restaurants and bars that are housed on containers.

After Oduber resigned as a minister and left politics in 2019 he established JDDS, a consultancy firm. Due to the corona pandemic there was insufficient work for JDDS and Oduber then established BCY Entertainment with the intention to operate its activities under the flag of JDDS. The bank informed Oduber that this was not possible, given the statutory objectives of JDDS.

This is why Oduber, the 100 percent ultimate beneficial owner of BCY, asked the bank to open an account for his new company. The former minister and his family have been banking with Arubabank for more than 25 years. At the time of his request, the RST had already done a search at Oduber’s house in the course of an investigation into bribery, money laundering, abuse of power and participation in a criminal organization related to domain land during the time he was a minister.

A month later the bank informed Oduber that it was unable to enter into a business relationship with BCY and that this decision was at the bank’s discretion. Four months later the bank confirmed that it definitely would not open such an account, citing risk appetite and negative news about Oduber that could damage the bank’s reputation: “The bank is aware that you are a suspect in a criminal case about fraud and corruption.”

In May 2022 Oduber was briefly detained as a suspect in a criminal investigation. A year later, he received a payment of 40,000 guilders from one Leoncita Laclé. Oduber explained to the bank that this payment was related to the sale of real estate in Colombia by Vista Suiza. Oduber and Richard Helder are shareholders of this company.

In July, Helder was arrested as a suspect in a money laundering investigation and in the same month the prosecutor’s office informed Oduber that he was going to be prosecuted for fraud with domain land, hiring ghost civil servants, accepting bribes and abuse of power.

The court states in its ruling that contract freedom is not unlimited. Banks have a social function and a duty of care. Running a business without having a bank account is impossible.

But the interests of the bank outweigh those of Oduber and BCY, the court ruled, even though it is practically impossible for Oduber to open an account with another bank. Legislation requires that banks have an adequate policy to safeguard the incorruptible functioning of their operations. As a part of such a policy, banks disassociate from behavior that forms a threat against their reputation and integrity.

The court noted that Oduber is a PEP (politically exposed person) and as such subject to stricter client-research and that he had explained the background of the payment from Colombia but that he had not said anything about the origin of the money. This makes that 40,000-guilders payment a money laundering-sensitive transaction.

Another argument in favor of Arubabank is its relationship with correspondent banks in the United States. Such relationships are important because Aruba depends largely on trade with foreign countries. “The loss of that relationship has possibly serious consequences for the bank and its clients and for the economy of Aruba,” the court ruling states.