Published On: Tue, Mar 3rd, 2020

Court verdict reveals how Frans Richardson is guilty of accepting bribes, money laundering and tax fraud

PHILIPSBURG – The Court in First Instance sentenced former Member of Parliament and leader of the United St. Maarten party (USp) Frans Richardson on January 29 to 3 years of imprisonment. The court also took away Richardson’s passive voting rights (the right to be elected) for a period of five years. The verdict marks the end of the Emerald-investigation into bribery and fraud. StMaartenNews.com brings you an analysis of the court verdict.

The court found Richardson guilty of accepting bribes to the tune of $370,000, of money laundering and of tax fraud.

The verdict reveals how the former director of the Harbor Group of companies, Mark Mingo and Checkmate Security director O’Neal Arrindell conspired back in 2012 to award inflated bids to dredging company Devcon. Part of the bribes the company paid to win the dredging contracts flowed into Arrindell’s bank accounts in Anguilla and from there into an account of Richardson who took out practically all the money in cash.

The directors of Devcon, Jon and David Chellgren, were well aware of the scheme they participated in to win the dredging contracts. They were made aware of the fact that Arrindell was “the man” if they wanted to win any contract from the harbor. According to Devcon-director Chellgren, Arrindell would call him to indicate how much money he wanted. Those amounts were then added to the bid that was subsequently approved by port-director Mingo without asking any questions.

Richardson acknowledged during a court hearing on December 16, 2019, that he received $370,000 from Arrindell on his bank account in Anguilla in two separate payments on July 30 and December 20, 2012, and that he had spent this money.

Arrindell told investigators on December 7, 2016, that  the government tells the harbor which projects have to be done by large companies, adding that director Mingo would “listen to the shareholder” – the government that is in office at a given moment. In 2012, the government was led by National Alliance stalwart William Marlin, while Richardson was on the permanent parliamentary committee for Tourism and Economic Affairs.

Arrindell furthermore told investigators that he worked in 2012 as a public relations officer for the harbor and that he never documented his work: “I am bad at spelling. Almost everything was done verbally.”

David Chellgren told investigators that he is familiar with the term “pay to play.” It meant that, if “consultancy contracts” with Arrindell were not included in a bid, the company would not get the work. His father Jon added that Arrindell was paid to provide protection: “To make sure that no bad things will happen.” Chellgren Sr. told investigators: “I had the impression that Mingo was listening to Arrindell. He made clear that he was “the man.”

The court ruled that the port was made to believe that the costs Devcon included in its bid for “mobilization costs” and “general conditions” were linked to the execution of its dredging activities while in reality these amounts – for a total of approximately $3 million – were used to pay Arrindell.

“It has been established that the payments to Arrindell were not a fair compensation for work done but that they were – cost increasing – bribes to obtain the dredging contract and subsequent contracts,” the court ruling states.

The court furthermore established the close family ties between Arrindell and Richardson – who grew up together – and that Richardson became the chairman of the parliamentary committee that had the harbor in its portfolio.

The court furthermore notes that Richardson not only received $370,000 from Arrindell but that he had also withdrawn this money from his account and that he had spent it. In doing so, the court ruling states, Richardson became guilty of money laundering.

In December 2019, Richardson acknowledged to investigators that he had not reported the $370,000 on his tax returns and that he had not reported the shares he held in Paradise Real Estate either.

Richardson told the court that he assumed he did not have to report his global income to the tax inspectorate, but the court dismissed this argument, saying that he has an independent obligation to comply with existing laws and regulations.

“The defendant is guilty of accepting bribes and of laundering this money,” the ruling states. “He also filed incomplete returns for income tax. As a parliamentarian he has seriously abused his position to serve his personal financial advantage instead of serving the interests of the people of St. Maarten.”

The court furthermore concluded that Richardson had denied any wrongdoing and that, in doing so, he had failed to acknowledge the criminal and reproachable aspects of his actions.

The court did not find grounds to incarcerate Richardson on the spot, as the public prosecutor had demanded. He will therefore remain a free man, awaiting the outcome of his appeal against the verdict.


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