Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever answering questions posed about the changes to the Penal Code, Book Two of Civil Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures during Monday’s Central Committee meeting.
PHILIPSBURG--Members of Parliament (MPs) reiterated their concerns about the changes to the Penal Code, Book Two of Civil Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures during Monday’s Central Committee meeting.
During the meeting Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever returned to Parliament with answers to a barrage of questions posed by MPs on August 2, when the law changes were first tabled in Parliament for review.
MPs are generally not in favour of the law changes, which are linked to recommendations of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) aimed at combatting money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.
Especially MPs Christophe Emmanuel (National Alliance) and Rolando Brison (United St. Maarten Party) are critical of the law changes, as they believe that these are detrimental to residents of St. Maarten and the island’s economy.
MP Sarah Wescot-Williams wants the minister to remove the law changes that are not related to CFATF, to be handled at a later date, also to allow the Ombudsman time to consider the law changes for possible review by the Constitutional Court.
St. Maarten has until November to enact law changes as recommended by CFATF or face a public statement, commonly referred to as being “blacklisted” by the Trinidad-based organisation.
CFATF is the regional branch of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global standard-setting agency for anti-money-laundering and combating financing of terrorism.
According to CFATF, St. Maarten’s laws are not in compliance with the 40 FATF recommendations. Non-compliance with the international standards on combating money-laundering and terrorism-financing will lead to implementation of a sanction regime.
If CFATF issues a public statement, St. Maarten will be placed on the list of high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions. This would obligate FATF’s 205 member-countries and jurisdictions to monitor and, if deemed necessary, sever all financial relations with that country within a period of six months to a year to protect their financial systems.
In that case, the financial institutions in all those countries and jurisdictions would be required to apply enhanced due diligence measures to business relations and transactions with natural and legal persons and financial institutions in St. Maarten.
Monday’s meeting primarily focused on the combating of terrorism- financing. Minister de Weever informed Parliament that unusual financial transactions have been made from St. Maarten to black-listed countries, and to finance terrorist organisations. However, he said that to his knowledge there are no Islamic State (IS) fighters from St. Maarten.
“St. Maarten being listed will put its economy under strain and, by extension, its business community and the man in the street,” the minister said.
According to De Weever, the blacklisting would have a detrimental effect on financial transactions and hinder online shopping and banking and money transfers, and would lead to higher cost for local businesses.
MP Brison was particularly critical of the proposed changes to the law. “We are lying to the public when we’re saying that a public statement would be the end of the world for St. Maarten. It is untrue and unfounded that banks will then close down,” he said.
He also said that the proposed law changes “go out of bounds” of the CFATF regulations and “squeeze in” other changes to the law. He wondered why more legal professionals, particularly criminal lawyers, had not been consulted for advice.
According to him, the law changes would give even more power to the banks and the Prosecutor’s Office “to go against the people of St. Maarten.”
Emmanuel said CFATF was “biased” against small island nations. He said the proposed regulations would give the banks more power and would damage St. Maarten’s cash-based economy. “The minister should be ashamed of himself for this bulldozering,” he said.
Emmanuel said the change to the Civil Code, which would allow the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to de-register businesses and foundations under suspicion of money-laundering and involvement in the financing of terrorism, is “dangerous.”
MP Frans Richardson said United St. Maarten Party wants the proposed legislation to be changed, as in its current form it would have far-reaching consequences for the “running and operations” of St. Maarten.
“The legislation is a dead horse. The minister should review and pull back and present a new document that represents what has been set by the [CFATF – Ed.] organisation,” he said.
The proposed laws would make it impossible to do business in St. Maarten, according to Richardson. He said international banks would be forced to leave the island, whereas locals are not allowed to open a bank account. He also said that financiers of terrorism in Arab countries should be “thrown off” the island.
Wescot-Williams said she is not convinced why the non-CFATF-related changes to the Penal and Civil Codes, such as the use of crown witnesses and the introduction of life sentences, have been thrown into the mix.
“Don’t put everything that needs to be updated in the mix with the compliance with CFATF regulations,” she said in recommending that the minister handle the changes to the Code of Criminal Procedure separately from the CFATF recommendations.
“Let us comply with CFATF, but give due time to review the other laws under the Penal and Civil Code and the Criminal Procedure Code,” said MP Jules James (United Democrats).
Minister de Weever said he would prepare and present his response to the questions posed by Central Committee members this week. The date and time of the next Central Committee meeting will be announced at a later date.