St. Maarten parliamentarian Louie Laveist banned from office for three years


~ Convicted of bribery ~

PHILIPSBURG--Former commissioner and current National Alliance (NA) Member of Parliament (MP) Louie Laveist was sentenced Wednesday on two counts of bribery to six months suspended, with three years' probation, payment of a NAf. 5,000 fine or 55 days in jail, and a three-year ban from holding office.

He was not present when the sentence was read at the Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon.

The Appeals Court found it legally and convincingly proven that the former commissioner of social affairs, labour and youth had accepted a bribe in connection with furnishing the new Government Administration Building in 2003, and had accepted a US $6,000 donation for work permits in 2007.

The Appeals Court stated that Laveist had put public order in jeopardy. "If officials can be bribed, other persons may also feel compelled to bribe a public official in his or her bid to obtain cooperation from government," the Court said.
Bribery may lead to non-objective decisions, for instance, "in not making the best choice where the furnishing of the new [government administration, ed.] building is concerned, and permits may be issued to those who would not have been eligible. This hampers government in serving the public interest," the Appeals Court said.

In sentencing, the Court took into account that Laveist had not been convicted of crimes previously, that he had expressed regret and had shown that he understood the impropriety of his actions. It was also taken in his favour that the case had affected his private life.

The embattled politician was acquitted of having forged minutes of Culture Club Foundation (CCF) that allegedly were used 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.
He also was acquitted of having been instrumental in the employment of an undocumented foreigner in his nephew's barbershop in 2008.

The Appeals Court ruled in a retrial Wednesday, after Laveist had successfully appealed a previous conviction at the High Court in The Hague in October 2011.

However, Appeals Court Judges H.J. van Kooten, E.M. van der Bunt and F.J. Lourens meted out the same sentence, on similar charges, as their colleagues had done in February 2010.

Laveist started his rounds in the courts in April 2009, after the Court of First Instance sentenced him to a five-year ban from holding office, 18 months in prison, nine of which were suspended, with three years' probation and a NAf. 5,000 fine.

The High Court had referred the case back for retrial and declared Laveist's conviction null and void because the evidence leading to his conviction had not been included in the judgment.

Solicitor-General Taco Stein requested the Appeals Court during the October 3 hearing in the retrial to sentence the NA politician to eight months, four of which were to be suspended, with three years' probation and a US $5,000 fine. The Prosecutor's Office also requested that the Court of Appeals ban Laveist from office for three years.

The Appeals Court found it legally and convincingly proven that Laveist had accepted a $3,000 bribe from Bemal Enterprises when he and his assistant flew to Canada at that 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 Alessio Bembo, Director of Bemal Enterprises, for "rest and recreation" after the intense 2003 election campaign.

It was also considered proven that the former commissioner had accepted a $6,000 donation on behalf of Culture Club Foundation in exchange for work permits in 2007. Eight sales representatives of Bargains Unlimited were granted work permits, despite an existing moratorium.

Laveist maintained he had not committed any crimes and had not accepted bribes. He told the court he regretted if he had made any mistakes, but said these had been due to his "naïveté" and his being an inexperienced "rookie" commissioner at the time.

He stated it had never been in his power to grant work permits, because this was not the authority of the commissioner of labour. "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.
Laveist's attorney Jason Rogers had pleaded for his client's full acquittal for lack of evidence.