October 04, 2012 10:26 AM
PHILIPSBURG--If it were up to Solicitor-General Taco Stein, former commissioner and current National Alliance (NA) Member of Parliament (MP) Louie Laveist will be sentenced to eight months, four of which to be suspended, with three years' probation and a US $5,000 fine.
The Prosecutor's Office also requested on Wednesday that the Court of Appeals ban Laveist from office for three years.
The politician stood trial at the Court of Appeals on charges of forgery, fraud, bribery and violation of the Federal Ordinance on the Employment of Foreigners.
The Court of First Instance had sentenced Laveist on April 28, 2009, to a ban from holding office for a period of five years. He also received a prison sentence of 18 months, nine of which were suspended, with three years' probation and payment of a NAf. 5,000 fine.
Laveist had filed an appeal immediately after his conviction. The Appeals Court found Laveist guilty in February 2010 of two counts of bribery as a civil servant, for which he was given a suspended prison sentence of six months with three years' probation, payment of a NAf. 5,000 fine or 55 days in jail, and a ban from civil service for three years. He was acquitted of forgery and fraud.
Laveist then launched an appeal with the High Court in The Hague, which referred the case back for retrial because of an administrative error. The High Court declared his conviction null and void because the evidence leading to his conviction had not been included in the judgment.
The three Appeals Court judges will be making a new decision on all five charges, which were discussed in depth during Wednesday's hearing.
Laveist allegedly had been forging minutes of Culture Club Foundation (CCF), to defraud Antillean Co-Financing Organisation AMFO of NAf. 22,750 in subsidy for the foundation's "Moral Values" project and for the "Rally Around the Flag" project for the St. Maarten Day celebrations of November 11, 2004.
AMFO had declined to grant a subsidy at an earlier date because it considered Laveist's positions as Commissioner and as CCF president a case of conflict of interest.
The minutes were used to indicate that CCF founder Laveist had resigned as president and that others, all civil servants working at his office, had been appointed as board members. However, the Chamber of Commerce was never informed of this change in the board, which is mandatory.
The former Commissioner of Social Affairs, Labour and Youth also was accused of having accepted a bribe in connection with furnishing the new Government Administration Building in 2003, accepting a $6,000 donation for work permits in 2007, and being instrumental in the employment of an undocumented foreigner in his nephew's barbershop in 2008.
The tearful Laveist maintained he had not committed any crimes. He told the court he regretted if he had made any mistakes, but said that these had been due to his "naïveté" and his being an inexperienced "rookie" commissioner at the time. "I was totally innocent and ignorant," he said with a sigh.
"I have made some mistakes on judgement calls, but I'm an ally of the law and the Prosecutor's Office," Laveist claimed. "I have never accepted bribes."
He stated it had never been in his power to grant work permits, because this was not the authority of the commissioner of labour.
"I couldn't issue work permits at will. The Executive Council makes these decisions, based on recommendation of the Labour Department. There is absolutely no connection between that donation and work permits. None whatsoever," Laveist said.
He admitted he had spoken about work permits in general with CCF sponsor Bargains Unlimited. Eight salespersons of Bargains Unlimited's sister company Joey's Jewellery were granted work permits, despite an existing moratorium.
Laveist also denied he had accepted a bribe from Bemal Enterprises when he flew to Canada at this company's expense to visit several factories producing office furniture. According to Laveist, the trip was offered to him by his good friend and election campaign manager Alicio Bembo, Director of Bemal Enterprises, for "rest and recreation" after the intense 2003 election campaign.
Court president Judge H.J. van Kooten pointed at the fact that politicians in this region have a bad reputation where bribery is concerned, but Laveist said he had not had bad intentions.
The Prosecutor's Office dropped the charge that Laveist had employed an illegal barber, because he had not been this man's employer. It was also not considered proven that Laveist would have used the subsidy for other purposes than the "Rally Around the Flag" project.
For the other charges, Solicitor-General Stein requested a lower sentence than requested in the Court of First Instance, considering Laveist's remorse and the fact that the alleged crimes had been committed quite some time ago.
Laveist's attorney Jason Rogers pleaded for his client's acquittal for lack of evidence. He further pointed at the fact that the embattled politician and his family had suffered from bad publicity.
Not the court but voters in the 2014 election will have to decide whether Laveist will remain an MP or not, Rogers said about the suggested ban from office.
The Appeals Court will give its decision on October 24.
(The Daily Herald)