17 May 2017
PHILIPSBURG–Workers and supporters of businessman Francesco Corallo came out in full force on Tuesday afternoon for his long-awaited extradition hearing at the Court House. Slogans such as “Respect Human Rights, Free Francesco” were shouted by protestors, primarily casino employees, who demanded the release of the 56-year-old Atlantis Group owner.
Workers in their uniforms said their boss has been detained for five months already. “This is inhumane,” a worker told The Daily Herald. The casino boss employs some 300 persons on St. Maarten.
The Anti-corruption Taskforce (TBO) of the Kingdom Detectives Cooperation Team (RST) arrested Corallo at the request of Italian authorities on the basis of an Interpol “Red Notice” on December 13, 2016. On December 30, 2016, the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Italy requested Corallo’s extradition.
In the extradition proceedings the Court must assess the admissibility of the extradition. If the Court deems the extradition permissible, the involved person can file for appeal in “cassation” with the High Court in The Hague, which takes about a year. If the High Court allows the extradition, the Governor of St. Maarten has to make the final decision on the extradition.
The Prosecutor’s Office has stated on numerous occasions that Corallo will be prosecuted in Italy for amongst other things, tax evasion of more than 250 million euros, and membership in a criminal organisation. The Italy-born Corallo, who is a Dutch national since July 2000, is also suspected in Italy for using his businesses for money-laundering.
While Corallo’s supporters chanted and cheered outside the Courthouse, Solicitor General Anton van der Schans, via a video-connection from the Courthouse in Willemstad, requested the Joint Court of Justice to grant the request filed last year by the judicial authorities in Italy for Corallo’s extradition.
He is suspected by the Italian authorities of leading a criminal organisation, and of embezzling tax monies that belonged to the State of Italy. He will also be charged with laundering tax money.
As these alleged crimes are also punishable under St. Maarten law by prison sentences of one year or more, the Solicitor General advised to grant the extradition request and to give a positive advice to the Governor of St. Maarten, who ultimately has to decide on the request.
Corallo’s legal team, consisting of attorneys Eldon “Peppie” Sulvaran and Claudia Reijntjes-Wendenburg, and of two legal advisors, was of a totally different opinion. They called upon the Court to declare the Solicitor General inadmissible in the extradition case against their client, to decline the request, and to immediately release their client from detention.
They claim that Corallo is not accused of money laundering, but of tax fraud. Corallo is a major shareholder of English company BPlus, active in the exploitation of slot machines in Italy. Due to the company’s financial situation BPlus decided that the taxes owed would be paid in instalments. Although large amounts of tax have been paid, this led to a “considerable” tax debt and a conflict with the Italian authorities, as a result of which Corallo is accused of being a “promoter” in a criminal organisation; of misappropriation of money that should have been paid as taxes [“peculato” in Italian – Ed.]; and of fraudulently transferring money that should have been paid as taxes to BPlus bank accounts in England.
Corallo, wearing dark blue pants and jacket with an orange T-shirt, and sandals on his feet, denied all allegations of crime. According to his lawyers, “there is only a conflict about paying taxes.”
Corallo’s defence is built on the premise that he committed tax fraud, but he claims that all his income has been fully declared, all due taxes were fully paid, albeit by instalments, and in accordance with Italian law.
“Mister Corallo does not understand how it can be criminal to transfer money from the bank account of the company to another account of the same company,” his lawyers said, in pointing out that Global Starnet Limited is the legal successor of BPlus.
As extradition is only possible for activities considered criminal in both the requesting country, in this case, Italy, and the requested country, St. Maarten, Reijntjes said her client should not be sent to Italy.
“Under the law of St. Maarten not paying due taxes creates a tax debt, but it is no crime. Neither is using money for other purposes than paying due taxes. Only a transfer of money with a criminal origin constitutes the crime of money laundering. So, if “Peculato” is not a crime under the law of St. Maarten there can be no money laundering, and transfer of the money cannot be criminal. The conclusion has to be that whatever may be the situation under Italian law, what Mr. Corallo did is not punishable under the law of St. Maarten. When there is no double criminality extradition is not allowed,” Reijntjes concluded.
The defence also pointed out a second problem connected with the requested extradition. Corallo is a Dutch citizen, and under St. Maarten law Dutch citizens may only be extradited under the “strict” condition that, in a case of a conviction, they will be sent back to serve their sentence in St. Maarten after this sentence has been converted by the St. Maarten Court to a sentence that is compatible with local standards.
According to Reijntjes, Italy has never accepted this condition mentioned in the Convention on the Transfer of a Sentenced Person and would not even be allowed to do so under Italian law. “As a result Dutch citizens are never extradited to Italy. This is an extra reason why extradition of Mr. Corallo cannot be allowed,” she said.
The Solicitor General provided the Court with email correspondence with the Prosecutor’s Office in Rome in which it reportedly emerged that Italy would comply with a request to send Corallo back to St. Maarten to sit out the remainder of his sentence, in case of a conviction.
Attorney Sulvaran yet again filed a request with the Joint Court to terminate Corallo’s pre-trial detention. Since December last year Corallo has been detained at the Philipsburg Police Headquarters “in a dark and humid cell which, according to international standards, is absolutely insufficient to detain human beings for periods of more than three days,” Sulvaran said.
Although the Joint Court already declined to end this situation on three previous occasions, Sulvaran again “urgently” requested to stop this “inhuman and degrading” treatment of his “suffering” client who has several medical conditions. Sulvaran stated that Corallo’s detention is “clearly” contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
He requested the Court to release his client on bail. “All my money is on lien, but I could ask my friends to make US $3 million available,” Corallo said in answer to a question by the Court.
Solicitor General Jan Spaans said that in case Corallo’s pre-trial detention would be lifted, the Prosecutor’s Office would not only request a $3 million bail payable via bank transfer, but would also want to attach several other conditions to the release.
These are to include the obligation for Corallo to report himself at the Police Station on Mondays at 9:00am, and to hand over all his (expired) passports and other identification. If it were up to the Prosecutor’s Office Corallo has to stay at one fixed address, and report any change of address. He would also not be allowed to travel or to leave Dutch St. Maarten.
The Joint Court will give its decision on the request for release no later than Tuesday, May 23. The decision on the extradition request will be given on Tuesday, June 20. The request to transfer confiscated documents and goods to the Italian authorities will be discussed at a later date, the Joint Court decided at the end of the nearly four-hour hearing.
Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten