PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten – Director The ROBALO investigation begun subsequent to an official complaint filed and a request made by the then Justice Minister Edson Kirindongo to investigate possible criminal offences taking place within the Immigration and Border Protection Department.
The complaint accused U.A., as the Immigration and Border Protection (IBP) Director, of human smuggling. U.A. had travelled to the Dominican Republic for a visa conference and upon return was accompanied by N.M.C., whom U.A. allowed to enter the island without having her passport stamped and bypassing immigration clearance. The Public Prosecutor referred to a witness who told that U.A. stated “make your adjustment and say: the director told you to”.
Consequently the then Minister of Justice Kirindongo filed a complaint against U.A. and the National Detectives started the ROBALO investigation. In his complaint letter, Kirindongo mentioned a number of incidents including the entry of persons without a visa and the signing of documents by U.A. on behalf of the Minister without being authorized to do so.
The National Detectives conducted an investigation into these facts at the request of the Procurator General and this eventually resulted in a sizeable dossier, which in the opinion of the Public Prosecution Service, shows that U.A. and fellow suspect E.H. had committed serious criminal offences. The common denominator of these criminal offences is that U.A. and E.H. were in a position to use their power to by pass the law.
Suspects U.A. and E.H. were tried for two cases of human smuggling, forgery, abuse of office today, Wednesday. U.A. was prosecuted for possessing two pistols, which could not be differentiated as real or not. These pistols were ‘suitable for mutilation’ and therefore firearms referred to in the Firearms Ordinance.
All official offences on the indictment revolve around an extra-statutory exemption from visa obligations, namely a so-called Decision To Allow Entry (DTAE). During the hearing, the Public Prosecutors elaborated on the DTAE and why this instrument was used unlawfully in the opinion of the Public Prosecution Service.
“However, the accused U.A. has always taken the position that he was permitted to grant an exemption because that authority was mandated to him. If we look at Article 3 of the Immigration Mandate Regulations 2012, we see that the director of the Immigration and Border Control is authorized to take decisions that are listed in the mandate register. This mandate register shows that, although the Director of the IBP is mandated to grant temporary or permanent residence permits, he is not authorized to waive any of the requirements to be eligible for a residence permit, including the visa requirement.
“To put it simply, the director can issue a residence permit, provided the conditions are met or refuse if the conditions are not met. However, he cannot issue the permit if the conditions are not met. The DTAE is nothing more than an exemption. After all, it is issued precisely because the applicant does not have a visa. It further seems that the system of DTAEs had to be kept out of sight of the (then) Minister of Justice Kirindongo.”
Considering an adequate punishment for these acts, the Public Prosecutors said, “In a small society like Sint Maarten, with a small and vulnerable government apparatus of which the IBP is a part, such criminal offences are also particularly harsh. Suspects could and should have known this, in view of their position within the IBP. The fact that the director of the IBP is guilty of human smuggling can be seriously blamed on him. And the fact that this is happening in the sight of several employees of the IBP makes it even worse.”
The Public Prosecutors have asked for U.A. to be sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, 6 months of which are to be suspended. For E.H. a community service of 240 hours and a suspended prison sentence of 6 months were requested. For both suspects the Public Prosecutors have asked for their removal from office for a period of 5 years.
The Public Prosecutors supported their request by stating, “It is worrying that the country of Sint Maarten does not take any legal measures if civil servants commit serious criminal offences. There are now a few examples of this. For that reason, the Public Prosecution Service demands the removal of these suspects from office. After all, it is not desirable that these suspects go back to work for the government, whereby it should be noted that until now suspect E.H. has only been denied access to the building, but he is still in the service of the government. The Public Prosecution Service should also contribute from its viewpoint to an honorable government of Country Sint Maarten, and therefore the barring is called for.”