Lawyer: ‘Patrick Illidge used influence to get things done’

PHILIPSBURG--Former Member of Parliament (MP) Patrick Illidge is not guilty of bribery but has only done his duty as an MP in “assisting citizens in their attempts and efforts to persuade ministers and civil servants to do what they are supposed to do,” lawyer Ralph Richardson said Thursday.
Together with Bada Bing night club owner Jaap van den Heuvel (49) Illidge (49) is the main suspect in a case of bribery in which Illidge allegedly accepted bribes for the total amount of US $150,000 between March 2011 and October 2012.
In exchange for the money, Illidge was to use his power and influence to favour the Bada Bing owner in ensuring the Ministry of Economic Affairs or other government agencies would grant an operational licence to the nightclub and seek a change in its official registered address from Maho Shopping Centre to Sr. P. Houtman Road in Simpson Bay. Illidge also was to promote extended opening hours for the establishment and seek the extension of work permits for several female employees. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, these are all violations of Article 379 of the Penal Code.
Illidge also was charged with possession of an illegal firearm; a nine-millimetre Ruger, between June 30, 2011, and March 9, 2013. For these crimes, the Prosecutor’s Office asked the court Wednesday to sentence the former MP to 30 months, 10 of which were to be suspended, on two years’ probation.
Attorney Richardson pleaded for Illidge’s full acquittal. He said his client had merely followed the “laws and morals of the land” and had only done what he was expected to do. He had only wanted to help out a voter who was at his wit’s end and felt lost in government bureaucracy.
“This case is a consequence of the culture in Country St. Maarten,” said Richardson. Former Minister of Justice Roland Duncan, who was heard as a witness in this case, had stated that MPs “take it for their right” to visit ministers and urge them to solve observed problems.
“The MP goes to the minister to discuss that. For example: a citizen comes with a complaint. The minister is difficult to reach. Therefore, the MP comes to complain on behalf of the citizen. Jaap [van den Heuvel – Ed.] has a problem and approaches Patrick Illidge about his problem. The MP then goes to the minister to discuss it. Even if it is about business. The MP comes to lobby,” Duncan said.
His statement was echoed by former Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications Romeo Pantophlet, who was also heard as a witness. “I would call it using one’s influence to get things done. That is customary in politics in St. Maarten. Any minister would tell you that.”
Attorney Richardson said that one parliamentarian is more of a (open) lobbyist than the other, but he said it would be a mistake to look at the practice, which is widespread, not only in St. Maarten, but in the entire Dutch Caribbean and beyond, through Dutch eyes.
Problem is the lack of decisiveness in government, Illidge’s lawyer claimed. It would be an illusion to think the current way of dealing between the authorities and citizens would be ended “once and for all.”
Into the breach
As an MP, Illidge tried to assist citizens in their attempts and efforts to make the authorities and civil servants do what they are supposed to do, Richardson said.
“Government of St. Maarten apparently did not deem it necessary to respond to the numerous requests of Lunteren NV and Jacob van den Heuvel to change Lunteren’s official address, which date back from 2006.
“Illidge, who was elected into Parliament in October 2010, took it upon him to do something about this. Illidge jumped into the breach for Lunteren and Van den Heuvel, but also did this for other citizens. He felt obligated to do this as an elected representative of the people. Parliamentarians are there for the people, they are chosen by the people,” Richardson explained.
The lawyer accused the Prosecutor’s Office of treating his client as if he were a civil servant who, as such, is not entitled to accept gifts or grant any favours.
It was also stated that Illidge had lost his right to a fair trial through all the media attention surrounding his case. “The trial by the media,” which followed after news about a videotape of Illidge apparently accepting stacks of banknotes from Van den Heuvel while the two discuss business permits appeared in the Telegraaf newspaper in the Netherlands and The Daily Herald on March 7 and 8, 2013, had led to his client being “charged and condemned” not only by the media, but also by the Parliament of St. Maarten, the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Richardson said his client had done nothing wrong and had only been a mediator on Van den Heuvel’s behalf. “Illidge was questioned 15 times between January 20 and January 30, 2014 and nothing wrong was found in the execution of tasks as an MP. The videotape made the Prosecutor’s Office go crazy but it failed to prove bribery,” the lawyer said.
Richardson said the information provided by the Prosecutor about his client’s financial position and inability to lend money to Van den Heuvel had been incorrect and false. As an MP, Illidge had not only received allowances to the total amount of NAf. 27,945, between 2009 and 2011. As former State Secretary and former Minister of the Netherlands Antilles he also received allowances totalling NAf. 63,639.
Richardson claimed his client was entitled to carry a firearm. Ministers are entitled to carry a gun in public up to four years after their resignation. Illidge resigned as Minister of Transport and Telecommunication of the former Netherlands Antilles on October 4, 2010.
The trial resumes today, Friday, with the Prosecutors responding to the lawyers’ pleadings.
The Daily Herald
In this case Jaap van den Heuvel is represented by attorney Cor Merx of Cor Merx Legal Services and tax lawyer Gert Bergman of BZSE Attorneys at Law l Tax Lawyers Sint Maarten. 
Patrick Illidge is represented by attorney at law Ralph Richardson of Richardson & Nicolaas and tax lawyer Erik Jansen of BZSE Attorneys at Law l Tax Lawyers.
Krijn van der Brug is represented by lawyer Geert Hatzmann of Bermon Law Office.
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