Published On: Wed, Mar 28th, 2018

Government fails to set standards: no conviction possible for operating illegal brothel

GEBE power plant and Cay Bay

PHILIPSBURG – The public prosecutor demanded 36 months with 6 months suspended and 2 years of probation against Juan L., owner of the Juan Bar in Cole Bay for ill-treatment, human trafficking and the illegal employment of eleven foreign women who worked as prostitutes in the rooms he rented out to them. The prosecution also wants to seize cash worth a bit more than $5,500 investigators found hidden in the defendant’s bedroom in dollar, guilder and euro denominations. The court will pronounce its verdict on April 18.

Amid all charges the spotlight suddenly fell on the government of St. Maarten and the lack of proper legislation. Because the government has failed so far to establish standards for sex-companies, the prosecution said it cannot ask the court to convict the defendant for operating a brothel without a permit.

On December 19, 2017, the police raided the Juan Bar in Cole Bay. A week earlier, a woman had filed a complaint about ill-treatment by the 52-year old defendant. He allegedly hit her in her face, broke her nose and threw her out of a driving car.

The prosecutor’s office found that L. had equipped his bar as a brothel without having a permit to do so, and that he illegally employed eleven women who worked there as prostitutes.

The defendant told investigators that he is renting out rooms for $10 and that it is not his concern what the women are doing there. He is also selling condoms and Viagra in his bar. Most women interviewed in the course of the investigation said they were working in prostitution, adding that they could work when they wanted and that there were no rules.

Information gathered from the defendant’s phone showed that he had advised women from Venezuela to enter the island via the French side. He also told women in voicemails: “You only pay me $10 if you have a client.” This tallies with statements the women have made to the police.

The public prosecutor said that during he raid on December 19, seven women were found at the bar. “Not all women were prepared to tell what was happening there.”

The prosecutor considered all charges proven, including the ill-treatment, but he left the charge of operating a brothel without a permit out of the equation. “This is because there is no elaboration of the permit system. There are no standards for sex-companies.”

Attorney Safira Ibrahim asked the court to acquit her client of the ill-treatment because there is no signed statement from the victim about the incident. L. and the women got into an argument in his car; according to the attorney, the woman was drunk. “She hit my client first and he reacted with one slap with his open hand. How can that result in a broken nose?”

Ibrahim also contested her client’s involvement in human smuggling. “The women had all the freedom they wanted. My client is only renting out rooms and none of them has a contract with Juan Bar. The women have not been fleeced by my client and there was no coercion. They had their own key to their room and they had their passports in their possession.”

Ibrahim noted that her client is not responsible for the women’s immigration status and asked the court to acquit him of illegally bringing them into the country.

Ibrahim also dismissed the charge that her client operated a brothel. “He does not have a permit for a brothel because he does not operate one. And supermarkets also sell condoms.”

Juan L. spent 83 days in pretrial detention. “He has been punished enough,” the attorney said. “After the police searched the bar, they did not close it up properly and the bar was looted shortly afterwards. My client suffered damages because of this and I ask the court to take this into account.”

Ibrahim asked the court to acquit her client of all charges.

The prosecutor reacted to Ibrahim’s remark that the women did not have contracts with the Juan Bar. “I do not expect a labor contract in cases of illegal employment. And the agreement was clear: pay $10 per client.”


Statement issued by Prosecutor’s Office

Public Prosecutor requesting prison time for illegal brothel operator

In the investigation “MUS”, the Public Prosecutor has requested a 36-month prison sentence of which 6 months are conditional and a 2-year probation period for suspect L., accused of operating an illegal brothel.
Investigation “MUS” started following a control of the Juan Bar, where it became evident that illegal prostitution was taking place. This emerged following a violent incident on September 21st, 2017, where an apparent undocumented sex worker at the Juan Bar was thrown out of a car and battered.
Thereafter an in-depth investigation was launched leading to the discovery of additional undocumented sex workers on December 19th, 2017. A total of 7 undocumented women were found to be working in the bar.
The Public Prosecutor also requested forfeiture of seized cash amounts found at the establishment: USD 2,766, NAf 1.515 and 1.550 euro.
The Public Prosecutor pointed out that while the regulation of the adult entertainment industry is still being discussed on a legislative level, such punishment serves to prevent further human trafficking practices. The court will announce the verdict on Wednesday, April 18th, 2018.