Published On: Sat, Jan 30th, 2021

Supreme Court’s attorney-general confirms verdict against former Minister Buncamper-Molanus

THE HAGUE — The Supreme Court’s Attorney-General D.J.M.W. Parideans has concluded that the verdict against former Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Maria Buncamper-Molanus for tax fraud is valid but that her punishment has to be lowered because the Supreme Court took too long to handle the cassation.

Attorney Claudia Reijntjes-Wendenburg handled the case at the Supreme Court for Buncamper-Molanus and her husband Claudius. On October 15, 2018, the Common Court of Justice sentenced both Buncampers on appeal to a 25,000 guilders fine and 240 hours of community service. They filed for cassation eleven days after this verdict.

The Buncampers came under suspicion after the former daily newspaper Today revealed on December 8, 2010, that the minister had sold the right of long lease to a parcel of land on Soualiga Boulevard for $3 million to the bogus company Eco Green.

Three weeks after the first publication in Today, Maria Buncamper-Molanus stepped down as minister under heavy political pressure.

Oniel Walters, a retired employee of the public works department that was managed by Claudius Buncamper became on paper the director of Eco Green, but Buncamper held the bearer share that made him the company’s ultimate beneficial owner. Walters received $1,500 per month for his role as the company’s frontman.

It took almost eight years before the trial of the Buncampers reached its conclusion at the Common Court of Justice. None of this would have happened if Buncamper-Molanus, who was a candidate for the United People’s party in the 2014 elections, had not gone to court with a request to close the books on the investigation against her and her husband. Instead, the court gave the Public Prosecutor’s Office three months to complete the investigation and to take the case to court.

What the Buncamper did with Eco Green was not strictly forbidden under St. Maarten’s laws, though one may well question the ethical aspect of selling a right of long lease that cost the Buncampers just 18,492 guilders ($10,330) in annual fees for $3 million through a construction that was designed to pay as little taxes as possible. The Buncampers obtained the right of long lease in 2008, when Buncamper-Molanus was a part of the island territory’s government.

The investigation into all this resulted in the discovery that Eco Green had filed incorrect returns for profit tax over the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. Because Maria Buncamper-Molanus did the administration for Eco Green, the court held her responsible for the incorrect tax returns.

Eco Green leased the parcel of land on Soualiga Boulevard to St, Maarten Building Supplies for an astronomical monthly fee of $18,750. The court ruled that the Buncampers had consciously created a fiscal construction (with the assistance of notary Francis Gijsbertha) whereby they did not receive the lease-payments in private but through the company they controlled.

The attorney-general at the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the Common Court of Justice had used the contents of tax returns through their own observations as evidence. “That is based on misreading the verdict,” Paridaens’ conclusion states.

The attorney-general also dismissed the argument that Eco Green had not filed an incorrect tax return for the year 2011 because it had not received any payment that year. “Rental income is attributed to the year in which the service was provided and therefore the unpaid rent should have been reported.”

The Supreme Court routinely follows the conclusions of its attorneys-general and therefore Buncamper-Molanus is now close to having an irrevocable verdict to her name. Ironically, the former minister works these days according to her LinkedIn profile as Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Finance.

Article 92 of the LMA (the rulebook for civil servants) states that civil servants can be suspended when they become the subject of a criminal investigation. This article has apparently not stood in the way of the former minister’s appointment as a high-ranking employee at the finance ministry. Dismissal is according to the LMA only possible if a civil servant has been irrevocably convicted to a prison sentence.


Related article:
Supreme Court sends Buncampers case back to the appeals court