Published On: Tue, May 31st, 2022

Appeals Court acquits Buncamper of tax fraud

PHILIPSBURG — The Court of Appeals acquitted suspended Member of Parliament Claudius Buncamper in a ruling dated May 30 of tax fraud related to the Eco Green case. His wife, former Minister of Public health Maria Buncamper-Molanus was found guilty of similar charges in 2018. The Supreme Court confirmed her conviction in January 2021 but noted that her punishment – a 25,000 guilders (close to $14,000) fine and 240 hours for community service – ought to be lowered because the court took too long to handle her appeal on cassation.

The acquittal in the Eco Green case is not the end of Buncamper’s legal challenges. The Court in First Instance sentenced the former head of the infrastructure department in February to a 32-month prison sentence and a 7-year ban on holding any office in the civil service (including functioning as the head of the infrastructure department). Buncamper has appealed the verdict.

In the Eco Green case, the court of appeals sentenced both Buncampers in 2018 to a 25,000 guilders fine and 240 hours of community service for filing incorrect or incomplete tax returns for Eco Green, a company of which they were both the ultimate beneficial owners. The appeals court took part of the sentence issued by the Court in First Instance – a conditional 12-month prison sentence – off the table because it found insufficient proof for several other charges.

While the Supreme Court confirmed the verdict against Maria Buncamper-Molanus, it has now acquitted Claudius Buncamper of the charge that he actively directed the process that resulted in the submission of the incorrect profit tax returns by Eco Green for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011.

On March 16, 2021, the Supreme Court annulled the ruling by the appeals court against Buncamper and it sent the case back to the same court for re-evaluation.

This time, the defendant found the prosecutor’s office on his side, because the solicitor-general told the court that there is no evidence that Buncamper directed Eco Green’s intentionally incorrect and incomplete profit tax returns and that he therefore had to be acquitted.

The court agreed with the solicitor-general and with Buncamper’s attorney Jairo Bloem that there is “insufficient legal and convincing evidence” for a conviction.

Buncamper was therefore acquitted of the charges.


News review

Attorney Cor Merx, a former Chief Prosecutor, told StMaartenNews.com that during his tenure he has never prosecuted anyone for tax-related issues. One of the bones of contention is when the public prosecutor can drag someone to court for tax offenses when handling such matters should be left to the tax inspectorate.

“Corruption has to stop, but the public prosecutor is incorrectly using tax offenses to fight corruption,” Merx said at the time.

The best way to avoid this kind of trouble is to talk to the tax inspectorate, rather than running away from it. Citizens or companies that have a good reason, or a good story, can attempt to find middle ground with the tax inspectorate;  for instance by making an agreement about payment of tax-arrears in installments, Merx advised.

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