Chief Prosecutor Mos about the working environment in St. Maarten: “Never did any politician suggest to go easy on a case”POSTED: 07/24/13 1:04 PM
St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar - After six years in the Caribbean Chief Prosecutor Mr. Hans Mos returns per August 1 to the Netherlands where he becomes an investigating prosecutor in Utrecht. In spite of all efforts, there still is no successor. “It is difficult,” Mos says in his modest office in the Vineyard building that has already been stripped of all decorations.
“They know already two years that I am leaving. One year ago, I went to talk to the Attorney General about it. I still know people in the Netherlands from my generation, but they all are tied down, they don’t want to leave. Prosecutors from Curacao do not want to come up here either. I assume that the bad economic situation in the Netherlands plays an important negative role as well.”
And so, by necessity, the role of the Chief prosecutor will for the time being fall into the hands of a management team, consisting of prosecutors Dounia Benammar, Gonda van der Wulp and Ludwina Hodge-Sprok. Solicitor-general Mr. Taco Stein, who functioned as Chef de Poste before Mos came from Aruba where he served 2 years and 3 months, is available in the background for support. “If they need any help, they all know where to find me,” Mos says.
The departing chief prosecutor does not leave St. Maarten entirely satisfied with his accomplishments, a sentiment he also expressed at his farewell reception in June. Among the most pressing questions that beg for an answer is the one about the relationship between his office and local politicians. Do the makers and shakers of St. Maarten have – of have had – any influence on investigations?
Mos: “There has never been any intervention, actively or passively, in any criminal investigation. Never did any politician suggest to us to go easy on a case.”
This does not mean that the prosecutor’s office has no contacts with politicians at all – but they are limited to the responsible minister. “If we undertake a big action in a sensitive case the responsible minister should not read about it in the newspapers, or hear it on the radio,” Mos says. “So we give the justice minister a call, maybe three minutes before the action starts. We also did that in the Shigemoto-investigation – and that concerns the former justice minister’s son in law.”
Politicians did not attempt to muzzle the prosecutor’s office via its budget either, Mos explains. When the 2013 budget became public, the prosecutor’s office saw its budget cut from 3.5 to 2 million guilders. That impression was wrong, Mos says now: “Our budget is based on the consensus Kingdom law and on the starting formation of 19 fte’s (full time employees – ed.) but on 10-10-10 we only had 8 fte’s. The law permits us to use budget-surpluses for the next year. That is what happened. The budget-cut for 2013 was already compensated by our surpluses. For 2013 we received exactly what we asked for. Any information in the press that suggested otherwise was based on ignorance. We are able to do what we have to do. At the same time, we have to spend public funds responsibly. We’re not spending money like water here.”
That the prosecutor’s office is able to do what it has to do may raise some eyebrows. There is a host of investigations “on the shelves” and quite some of them have to do something with corruption that involves (former) politicians and civil servants – all cases that end up on the plate of the National Detective agency. A major stumbling block: the lack of financial expertise.
“The agency has now one financial expert on the payroll,” Mos says. “But there still is a problem, because he must still obtain the status of extraordinary policeman, otherwise he is not authorized to write official reports. He will have to complete the Bavpol-training to get that status.” (Bavpol is the basic skills training for police officers – ed.)
The investigations the National detective agency ought to set its teeth in are all well known: the vote-selling case and the leased-land scandal from 2010, the embezzlement at the Tourist Bureau, the Bada Bing bribery-case, the Shigemoto-investigation are a few examples.
“The problem is that when St. Maarten obtained country status on 10-10-10 we did not have a National Detective Agency,” says Mos. “The Netherlands Antilles had such an agency, but they had maybe ten or twelve people and they were all in Curacao. After the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten got nothing from this organization. We had to start from scratch.”
Police Commissioner Ademar Doran became the quartermaster for the National Detective Agency. Mos: “He did not even have an office, so he camped out with us for a while. Then a lot of cases came up within a very short time frame. The agency still had to be built up and started with a handful of employees who were recruited from the police force. A classic example of fratricide.”
Mos describes getting assistance from the Dutch National Detective Agency (Rijksrecherche) or from the Royal Marechaussee as “a near mission impossible.” There is a huge demand on both organizations, he says. “And the Marechaussee at the time had defined tasks, like for instance border control.”
In the fight against human trafficking, the prosecutor’s office recorded a success with the conviction of the owner of the Border Bar brothel in Oyster Pond last year. After the conviction, the office sent a request to Minister Franklin Meyers of Economic Affairs to revoke the permit for the brothel. The minister did not react. Even better: he sent the request on to the Justice Ministry and from there it came back to the prosecutor’s office.
“That is frustrating,” Mos admits. “We are taking care of maintaining law and order. If then the government that signed a memorandum of understanding within the kingdom to combat human trafficking doesn’t play ball, it is very sad for the ladies who work at that establishment.”
For clarity’s sake: there are three ministries involved in the permits for brothels. Economic Affairs handles the business permit, Labor the work permit and Justice the residence permit. “That is done so to prevent that too much of these permits are the responsibility of one minister,” Mos says.
At the end of the line, when cases have been brought before the judge, there is the matter of punishment. On a regular basis, the court imposes partially conditional sentences, always with the argument that this ought to make defendants think twice before they commit another crime. Added to such sentences is often community service for a number of hours up to a maximum of 240. This is where the cell shortage comes into play in a negative way.
Defendants who do not do their community service hardly ever feel the consequences. “We have to develop the execution of part of our law enforcement chain,” Mos says. “Youth is very important in this context. If you say A, and you are not able to back it up by B, they will not take you seriously. We are looking for solutions, like fines. If the youth does not do what has been imposed, they must feel the consequences.”
The development of a facility for the youth in Cay Bay has a high priority. “The minister is acutely aware that this is essential, it has an absolute priority. When we have that in place it is possible to present a credible policy.”
Looking back at four years in St. Maarten, Mos says that the country was in a state of euphoria on 10-10-10. “The idea was that we would tackle everything, but that did not happen. You need the resources to make things happen.”
Still, the perception is that the prosecutor’s office is not doing everything it ought to do in the public’s mind. “That perception is real, and it is also understandable,” says Mos. “Since 10-10-10 people expect that we are going to deal with everyone that is suspected of corruption. But that expectation is simply too high and not realistic. And I admit: that is frustrating, too. We have to choose our priorities. At the bottom of the pile are cases we’ll never get around to.”
Those cases are, the chief prosecutor says, the ones with zero indications. “Suppose a woman is robbed in the middle of the night in a dark alley of $500. She files a complaint and all she is able to tell the police is that the robber was black and he was wearing black clothing. There are not witnesses. Where do you even begin to search?”
On a positive note, Mos is enthusiast about community policing, an initiative from the previous Justice Minister Roland Duncan. “When this begins to function properly, citizens will see that the police is there for them. People in the neighborhoods get to know them. We want to follow that up with community prosecution.”
The concept is to bring people that break the law within a day to a meeting with the police, the prosecutor’s office, an attorney, the Rehabilitation Bureau and a mediator for settling damages.
“It is a form of fast justice,” Mos says. “Basically it is mediating for damages with an enormous stick behind the door.”
As an example, he mentions a fictitious case whereby someone kicks in the garden gate of his neighbor. Instead of taking this through the lengthy process of the court, this system offers the injured party almost instant compensation, while there is also an opportunity to improve the relationship between the two neighbors.
To make the concept work, all links in the judicial chain have to do their part, and that remains a source of concern: “When there is no chief prosecutor to manage this, new initiatives will fall by the wayside,” Mos says.
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