Colade case regarding fraud at St. Maarten Tourist Bureau to be heard early 2018

PHILIPSBURG--The Colade case, which involves alleged embezzlement, theft and forgery committed at the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau (STB) and East Caribbean Destination (ECD) Management Company several years ago, will be dealt with next year, according to Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Norman Serphos.
 
The main suspects in this case are former Head of the Tourist Bureau Regina LaBega (57), and ECD’s managing directors Fabian Badejo (66) and E.A.I.F. (37).
 
The Court of First Instance heard lawyers’ requests for hearing of witnesses in May this year. The suspects, including Badejo, will have to answer to charges of embezzlement in employment, theft, forgery and tax evasion.
 
The suspects were arrested May 30, 2016, based on “complaints” filed by then head of the Finance Department Bas Roorda in November 2010. They were released three days later. Detectives have been busy with the investigation into staff working at STB for quite some time. National Detectives conducted house searches at five different locations on October 15, 2015. The investigation resulted in a number of sub-investigations, which led to an extensive case file.
 
Among charges is the embezzlement of US $142,000 in payments to ECD from an account at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank in New York which were not meant to cover the operational cost of the New York Tourist Office (NTO), or for activities and expenditures directly related to the North-American market.
 
The suspects are also charged with money-laundering to the amount of $140,000 and with embezzlement of almost $27,500 at the Tourist Bureau between December 3, 2008, and October 21, 2010, by using Chase Bank cheques for other purposes. LaBega will also have to answer to allegations that she committed forgery in writing a job letter.
 
All defendants are also suspected of membership in a criminal organisation between September 2008 and June 2011, aimed at committing crimes such as embezzlement and evasion of profit, income and wage tax.
 
Serphos said, “No date set yet. Later than expected due to the passing of Hurricane Irma. Still witnesses to be heard by Judge of Instruction.”
 
Roorda filed a criminal complaint against LaBega, Tourist Bureau head of Marketing Edward Dest and civil servant L.K. As a result of the complaint, former Minister of Tourism Franklin Meyers suspended Dest and LaBega on November 3, 2010. He withdrew their suspensions on December 2, 2010, as there was lack of evidence of any wrongdoing, he said at the time.
 
The complaint referred to an account at Chase Bank in New York with money to fund the NTO on Fifth Avenue in New York City to promote tourism to St. Maarten in North America. The office received a monthly Government contribution of $100,000 for marketing purposes in what was called the “essential market.” However, it emerged that money from this account had been used for other purposes.
 
Attorney Shaira Bommel filed requests in May for the hearing of no fewer than 13 witnesses, including Roorda, Government Controller Alex Richardson and former members of the Executive Council Frans Richardson, Hiro Shigemoto, Miguel de Weever, Franklyn Richards, Roy Marlin, Xavier Blackman, Theo Heyliger and then-Island Secretary Joane Dovale-Meit.
 
According to Bommel, these witnesses were all to shed light on the question whether the expenditures were made with or without Government’s approval. She also called for the quarterly reports and an audit report by Government Accountant Bureau SOAB into the alleged “irregularities” to be included in the case file.
 
The Prosecutor objected to the hearing of all witnesses, as they already had been heard by the National Detectives and the Judge of Instruction. The Prosecutor said no written guidelines had been found concerning the destination of the monies in the Chase Bank account. The Prosecutor stated that NTO’s annual accounts had not been received by investigators and that SOAB audits concerned the time after the alleged crimes were committed.
 
The Judge granted attorney Safira Ibrahim’s request to hear Alex Richardson as a witness in Badejo’s and E.A.I.F.’s case, but turned down requests to also hear De Weever and Blackman.
 
The requests by ECD’s lawyer Peggy Ann Brandon to hear four witnesses in the tax case were all granted.
 
The Daily Herald
 

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