Published On: Tue, Apr 30th, 2019

Volkskrant describes St. Maarten as money laundering center


PHILIPSBURG – Sint Maarten made headlines in the Volkskrant on Tuesday and the news was not good. “An attractive island for tourists – and for criminal gangs that launder money,” correspondent Kees Broere reports.

“The doors are open and the security guard makes a very relaxed impression. In Casino Royale, the largest gambling palace in St. Maarten, every adult visitor is welcome – from ladies in prom dress to unshaven tourists in vacation shorts. After all, only the dollar banknotes matter,” Broere wrote.

He notes, correctly, that there is no registration or identification requirement to enter a casino. In the Netherlands this has been mandatory from quite some time already. “If the casino knows who its guests are, it is better able to keep an eye on the people who come there to launder money. Not that this happened often in the Netherlands, but it did happen.”

The article refers to “a recent large international poker tournament” where the winner walked away with $250,000 – either in cash or with a check. This is a reference to the World Series of Poker Circuit Event organized in March at Casino Royale by Thomas Kremser Poker. The prize pool for the main event was $250,000 but the winner, St. Maartener Cedric Adam did not get all that money; he cashed $67,000 ahead of two American players: Michael Lech ($41,000) and David Moses ($30,000).

Players in such tournaments do have to register at the casino though.

Broere notes that Casino Royale is “emphatically not suspected” of laundering criminal money, though roulette players routinely hand cash to the dealer in exchange for chips. “The lucky ones are able to take their additional money home with a profit-declaration.”

Broere walks through the casino that is “pleasantly busy” on a weekday around 10 p.m., spots “a happy tourist” behind a China Mystery slot machine and six Chinese playing cards. Smoking? No problem.

The article mentions that there are twelve licensed casinos and that the island has a population of 40,000 “plus another 30,000 illegals” and “the almost 2 million visitors the island receives every year.”

Some gambling houses have a reputation as money laundering centers – “not in particular for the criminal money from client, but especially for the owners and their at times shady contacts.” Broere does not mention specific examples, but he makes an interesting observation about the lack of control over the turnover casinos realize and over the origin of the money they receive.

“Owners can report a fictitious, much higher turnover and pay their taxes. The remaining money can be deposited into a bank account, making dirty money perfectly legal. And what works in casinos also works in other companies like restaurants, lottery shops, real estate businesses and car rental companies.”

Broere quotes Financial Intelligence Unit (MOT) director Ligia Stella to support the notion that paying taxes is a thing. “I think that we do not even collect half of the criminal money.” Stella told the reporter.

It is unclear what the MOT has to do with the collection of taxes, but the reports from this institution do of course give a fair idea about the number of suspect financial transactions. In 2017 and 2018, the MOT registered 1,700 such transactions with a value of $163.8 million.

A spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office told Broere that St. Maarten is “attractive for criminal gangs that launder money” and that there is “a relatively high concentration of money laundering criminality.” Legislation to combat this practice is still insufficient. (A recent meeting of parliament to approve anti money laundering legislation could not go through due to a lack of quorum).

Broere also mentions the “close ties” between local politicians and (international) entrepreneurs. One example is MP Franklin Meyers – “whose brother is linked to prostitution.” According to two reliable sources, Broere writes, “Meyers did not pass the screening for the post of prime minister because he had leased a casino license he owns together with his brother to Francesco Corallo “the originally Italian boss in the gambling mafia with good contacts in politics in Curacao.”

Large amounts of cash often play a prominent role with politicians and entrepreneurs, Broere observes before he dives into the history of Theo Heyliger, “the godfather of politics in St. Maarten.”

The article refers to the bribery allegations against Heyliger, to the bribes former MP Patrick Illidge took from a brothel owner (Bada Bing’s Jaap van den Heuvel) and to former minister Christophe Emmanuel (“who reportedly gave eight people more than 10,000 square meters of land in long lease against the advice from his department.” MPs Chanel Brownbill and Frans Richardson (“mentioned in criminal investigations into fraud and corruption for €3 million at the port of St. Maarten”) do not escape Broere’s pen either.

And this is how the article ends: “No more bets please,” the dealer at the roulette table says with an imploring movement of her left arm. No more bets – rien ne va plus. But this is when it really begins in St. Maarten.”