Published On: Sat, May 16th, 2020

Stand by your man

Theo Heyliger 2020030904 JH

By Hilbert Haar

The verdict is in and former parliamentarian Theo Heyliger is facing a 5-year prison sentence for accepting bribes and for money laundering. It is a given that Heyliger will appeal the verdict; after the court of appeals confirms the ruling (or hands down an even longer prison sentence, a distinct possibility) he will take his case to the Supreme Court.

The board of the United People’s party arrived at the rather curious conclusion that, once you file an appeal against a guilty verdict, you are still innocent. Are these people for real? I figure that an appeal is contesting a guilty verdict. But yeah, stand by your man, and all that stuff, I get it.

What I don’t get is the lack of respect for the independent judge. The UP board speaks of a hearsay trial and a hearsay verdict, thereby suggesting that the judge is a marionette who dances to the tune of an imaginary enemy. The UP board even said in a press release that it anticipates Heyliger’s full acquittal. Who is the real marionette in this story?

The UP board creates the impression that the case against Heyliger is based on hearsay – that is, on statements made by crown witness Ronald Maasdam and former Windward Roads director JanHendrik Boekaar. It is a nice spin, but it is incorrect. A guilty verdict needs more than witness statements; it’s called supporting evidence.

Investigators found evidence that corresponds with statements made by the crown witness. And Maasdam was not in a position to say just anything; if he were caught in a lie his deal for a lower sentence would be off the table. It is fair to assume that Maasdam told investigators the truth to save at least a piece of his own skin.

There is something worrisome about the statement from the UP board. It suggests two things: 1. The UP does not trust the judicial system and 2. The UP condones bribery.

Not trusting the judicial system is fine because court cases will always lead to their inevitable conclusions. That does not do any harm to St. Maarten.

Condoning bribery is something else altogether. Because the crimes Heyliger committed are a form of stealing from the people who voted for him. Bribes make projects more expensive and since the government foots the bill, there is less money available to satisfy other needs – like supporting the vulnerable citizens among us.

I am not surprised that the UP press release does not contain a single sentence that condemns bribery or money laundering. It is the way of the world in St. Maarten.

I remember the bribery case against former parliamentarian Louie Laveist who took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. I asked him in the end why he was doing this because every time he went to court his story was splashed all over the newspapers.

“But Mr. Haar, I am innocent,” Laveist famously explained to me.

So that is the way politicians and their ilk look at the justice system. You can find me guilty as hell but I am still innocent.

Alexander Rinnooy Kan, in the distant past, chairman of the employers organization VNO, once explained how the Dutch are no stranger to creating their own reality: “We are not the world champion but we do play the best soccer.”

Court rulings are based on evidence. Without evidence there cannot be a guilty verdict. And if a defendant disagrees with the verdict, the road to the appeal process is wide open. The appeal is heard by a panel of three judges while the decision in first instance is made by one judge. If the outcome of an appeal is unsatisfactory a defendant can still go to the Supreme Court; all this to say that the judicial system is pretty fair and balanced.

Heyliger will enjoy his freedom until all options for the defense have been exhausted. Given the pressure the corona-crisis has put on everything – including the judicial system – I expect the appeal to be on the docket in the spring of 2021, and handling by the Supreme Court sometime in late 2023.

All that time Heyliger will be a free man. But until proven otherwise, he will still be guilty.


Related articles:
Lower prison sentence for Theo Heyliger due to violation of standards
Judgements in the LARIMAR case / Click here for the Dutch version
UP Board: Hearsay trial produces hearsay verdict
LARIMAR dossier