Published On: Sat, Mar 9th, 2019

Parliament silently accepts Heyliger’s suspension

President of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams - 8 Mar 2019

PHILIPSBURG — Chief Prosecutor Mirjam Mol informed Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever already on March 1 in writing about the beginning of United Democrats leader Theo Heyliger’s pretrial detention. Based on this information, Heyliger was suspended as a Member of Parliament.

Parliament convened on Friday to acknowledge the information from the prosecutor and the inherent suspension. Parliament only received Mol’s letter, via the Justice Ministry, only four days later, on March 5. The President of Parliament, MP Sarah Wescot-Williams, convened an urgent meeting of Parliament on Friday about the matter. In the morning there was no quorum but when the meeting was reconvened for 1 p.m. the same afternoon there were nine members present.

“Today the court has ordered the custody (bewaring) of the suspect Heyliger,” Mol stated in her letter to Minister Cornelius de Weever. “The serious objections against him can be summarized as official corruption and money laundering. With this decision by the court the pre-trial detention has begun. Based on article 50, paragraph 2, of the Constitution of St. Maarten, the legal consequence is the suspension of Mr. Heyliger’s membership of Parliament. It seemed sensible to me to inform you about this.”

MP Wescot-Williams quoted the text of the letter in the meeting on Friday afternoon.

“Since parliament has been informed it will now have to comply with article 50, paragraph 2, of the Constitution – the appointment of a substitute member of Parliament,” Wescot-Williams said, adding that it is recommended for Parliament to determine, based on the information from the prosecutor’s office, “that a member of Parliament has been suspended based on the law.”

“This is a declaration of a declaratory nature,” Wescot-Williams said. “It is important both to Parliament and to other constitutional bodies. There should be no ambiguity about the position of a suspended member of Parliament.”

Wescot-Williams noted that MP Heyliger will continue to receive his remuneration – in other words he will continue to get paid – but that he is “forbidden to exercise the powers attached to his office.”

The chairlady labeled the meeting of Parliament as one of “extraordinary nature.”

Parliamentarians got five minutes speaking time to “say something about the issue” but there were few takers. Only National Alliance MPs Christophe Emmanuel and Ardwell Irion asked a few questions of procedural nature.

The parliament will now send a letter to the Central Voting Bureau. Based on the results of the last elections it will determine who will replace Heyliger in Parliament. Former MP Jules James is the first in line.

Heyliger is currently detained at the prison in Bonaire, because the detention facilities in St. Maarten violate human rights. The custody (bewaring) is the first phase of pretrial detention. It can last for a maximum of 90 days and it can be extended once by another 30 days. The case against Heyliger has to go to court for the first time no later than 104 days after he was first detained. This sets the deadline for this court hearing – counting from the arrest on February 19 – on May 31 (since June 1 and 2 fall on a Saturday and a Sunday).

Pretrial detention is only possible for crimes that carry a penalty of at least 4 years in prison but there are a few exceptions: a charge for money laundering also justifies pretrial detention. There also have to be serious objections against the release of a detainee. This is for instance the case when there is more than a vague suspicion that someone has committed a crime.

There also has to be at least one reason for pretrial detention. In Heyliger’s case only the risk of collusion applies – the fear for sabotage or frustration of the investigation. Incarceration is also justified in cases where investigators need more than statements from a suspect alone to get to the truth.

Pretrial detention ends in cases where it last longer than the prison sentence the court expects to impose.

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