Published On: Sat, May 16th, 2020

Lower prison sentence for Theo Heyliger due to violation of standards

Court Room St. Maarten

PHILIPSBURG — The judge acknowledges that former Member of Parliament Theo Heyliger has been brutally treated by holding him first in a filthy Philipsburg police cell and then in Bonaire, violating his right to visits from his family. His sentence for laundering nearly $4 million and taking bribes has been lowered as a result: Heyliger has to spend not 6,5 years, but five years in jail.

Heyliger’s time in pre-trial detention will be deducted from the sentence. For the time being, the protagonist in the LARIMAR case does not have to go to prison. His doctors will be consulted first. Last year Heyliger’s detention was suspended for medical reasons and this suspension has not been lifted by the judge.

The prosecutor had demanded immediate imprisonment of the politician. The judge is of the opinion that while Heyliger has committed serious crimes, the manner in which the Public Prosecution Service has proceeded to prove this testifies to “abuse of power and deliberate violation of the rights of the suspect”. Heyliger owes his lower prison sentence mainly to the “reprehensible behavior” of the Public Prosecution Service.

During the substantive treatment of the Larimar case in March this year, the public prosecutor distributed an animated film about the lawsuit via social media. In the video, it is said without reservation that “the politician” was bribed by construction companies and a dredging company for ten years in exchange for public contracts, and was guilty of money laundering. At no point in the video is it unequivocally stated that these are suspicions and that the suspect’s guilt is not established. The court assumes that many in St. Maarten have concluded that “the politician” meant Theo Heyliger. “There is an irreparable absence of decorum on the part of the Public Prosecution Service.”

Immediately after the video was distributed, Heyliger’s lawyer argued that there can no longer be a fair trial against his client. The judge disagrees. “When assessing whether there is still a fair trial, it is important to consider the process as a whole. In this case, there are external statements from the Public Prosecutor’s Office that are harmful to the suspect and to criminal justice in general, but that in themselves are not sufficient to conclude that there is no longer a fair trial.” The court considers that a reduction in sentence is the most appropriate sanction for the violation of standards.

Heyliger’s political following has been disappointed. The board of the United People (UP) party on Friday said in a press statement that the hearsay trial of party founder Theo Heyliger resulted in a hearsay verdict, and hopes Heyliger’s legal team appeals the verdict forthwith. “We are disappointed, but the fight is not over,” the board said in the statement.

The UP board maintains its position that the prosecutor’s office did not present any physical evidence of wrong-doing. “The prosecutor and now judge went with the gospel word of nefarious Dutch contractors and a middle man who was given a deal to testify against Heyliger as a crown witness. It’s a joke and judicial tragedy.”

The court maintains that the absence of legislation concerning the crown witness on St. Maarten does not in itself mean that such an agreement would be unlawful. “However, the requirements in the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, also applicable in St. Maarten, must be met and the agreement must relate to an investigation into crimes of sufficient weight.” According to the court, this case concerns a suspicion of large-scale bribery by international companies of one of the most prominent figures in St. Maarten with a large network, to whom many have been attributing almost unlimited power when it comes to awarding important infrastructure projects on the island. “In a small society like St. Maarten, it should be taken into account that there is little willingness on the part of those involved to declare alleged corruption, as the repercussions on the witness’s personal and business life can be very high.”

Crown witness Ronald Maasdam has been sentenced to three years in prison for bribing Heyliger and for his role in laundering nearly $4 million. Maasdam will serve his sentence in a House of Detention in the Netherlands and will have to pay for his own security in subsequent years. “The public prosecutor has convincingly explained that Maasdam’s statements did indeed endanger his physical safety,” the judge said. Maasdam did not say anything about the payments to Heyliger until after he concluded an agreement with the Public Prosecution Service and stipulated that he would be transferred to the Netherlands. During the lawsuit, Maasdam indicated that he was afraid of retaliation.

On 15 July 2019, the former director of construction company Windward Roads, Hendrikjan Boekaar, sent a written statement as a suspect in the Larimar case to the Public Prosecutor in which he incriminated both himself and Theo Heyliger. In the following two months, Boekaar was questioned as a suspect several times. The police did not immediately draw up an official report of these interrogations. The court establishes that there has been a violation of standards, but concludes that this has not had any disadvantage for the suspects. Boekaar has been sentenced to a year in prison for his role in the bribery scandal.

Two other suspects, George Pelgrim and Ron Elferink, were each given 240 hours of community service and a fine of NAf 20,000 for laundering two plots of land that were bought by the politician with the bribe.


Related articles:
Opinion piece: “Stand by your man
Judgements in the LARIMAR case / Click here for the Dutch version
UP Board: Hearsay trial produces hearsay verdict
LARIMAR dossier