Francesco Corallo’s only interview ever “you watch too many ‘godfather’ movies!
“There’s Francesco Corallo, the most powerful Casino boss in St Maarten.” Judith Roumou points to a man in blue shorts and a yellow Adidas shirt, as he enters the Starz Casino.
Roumou (40) is the most read blogger in St Maarten over 20.000 followers in a country of approx. 50.000 people. The tiny, lean female, with thin, long braids writes the latest Bobol (conflicts) going on in St Maarten, on her Facebook page… She also covers carnival and the storms as they make their presence known during the hurricane season, but most of all, she blogs about corruption.
This afternoon, Roumou is showing the Volkskrant the casinos, of which there are at least 15 in this tiny, Caribbean Island within the Dutch Kingdom, an area the size of Vlieland.
Roumou is not the only person who sees the interwoven relationship between the underworld and the legit world. Second Chamber member Ronald Van Raak (SP) and Andre Bosman (VVD) both say that there is evidence that money is being laundered in the the casinos, and that dirty money is used to pay politicians
A majority of the Nederlands 2nd Chamber voted on a motion in April, for a formal investigation. Bosman; “There are many politicians on Sint Maarten who have a much larger spending pattern than their official income. Furthermore, the casino’s evade taxes, they won’t open their bookkeping, checks and balances are severely limited. The investigation is simple: follow the money”
This week in Curacao former Prime Minister Gerrrit Schotte faces the courts, it is alleged that Schotte received approx $200 thousand dollars from Corallo.
In exchange Corallo was allowed to have influence with the government and system e.g. influence within the Central Bank. Corallo (55) is a recurring figure in Judith Roumou’s blogs, but she’s never met the Casino owner, a native Sicilian.. until now… “Go Fuck Yourself!” as she catches up to him in the casino hall, a light gambling palace, with a butterfly motif tapestry.. “Why do you keep calling me a Mafiaso?”
To the Reporter (Charlotte) the casino owner asks: “How is it that people believe her blogs? She is crazy, paranoid and autistic/asperger.. I ask myself.. who is paying her."
According to Roumou “My asperger/autism diagnoses is confirmed, but I’m not crazy like my critics says. My IQ has tested very high,
I am good with the computer, but I’m not for sale, I don’t care about the posh life.”
Meanwhile there is a diplomatic impasse between the St Maarten Government about the Dutch government’s approach to the felonious crimes on the island. Holland is coming in, starting next year with 55 additional RST investigators from the Netherlands to investigate the “subversive criminal activity” in St Maarten.
Dutch Police chief Gerard Bouman has said that the authorities and police in St Maarten are simply to corrupt to work or cooperate with. Minister of Kingdom Relation’s Ronald Plasterk, had to work to smooth things over last week.
Corallo has been living in St Maarten since the age of 17.
According to him ‘When there was nothing here…’
He had yet to turn 25 when he opened his first casino. ‘Now I employ 500 people’, he stated proudly. Based on his ‘contributions’ to the island and its economy, Corallo finds it unfair that he his still is being used as an example of what is wrong/criminal in St Maarten.
For someone who has never given and interview in his life, the casino owner is very talkative this afternoon.
‘Why is is always about Corallo?’ he asks, as he sits at a table at his casino, smoking a pipe that assists in weaning one off of their nicotine dependence. ‘I give money to the politicians, just like all of the rest of the business people here. He swore that nothing has been held back from the authorities, that they let him do whatever he pleases without restriction. ‘We abide by the rules’ ‘The Accounting/Auditing firm KPMG monitors and controls us.’
And now Corallo feels that the Dutch are overreacting. “You cannot build a case based on rumors. The Dutch have been investigating me for 20 years, and they have yet to find anything.’ I am not laundering any money.” He sneers: ‘Let the new Dutch police come.’
The history of the casino’s in St Maarten began in 1975, when Sicilian Don Rosario Spadaro arrived in the still under developed island. As one of the first big investors in the still being created Tourism industry. In the 90’s Rosario Spadaro along with then Political leader Claude Wathey were both investigated and imprison for fraudulant activity, concerning stealing supplies from the Juliana Airport to build his hotel Maho/Sonesta.
But its seems that the OM (Prosecutors Office) never considered the money laundering as a part of their case against Spadaro 20 years ago.
Spadaro still owns a few casinos in St Maarten, but he is advanced in age now, The history seems to repeat itself, now another Sicilian has taken his place as the Island’s top casino owner, and is also being accused of being involved in mafia practices. Corallo regards this with disdain… it’s theatrical. ‘You guys watch too many movies, like “The Godfather”. I have no contact with Spadaro. I am Sicilian, I have many casinos, the majority In Italy, and a few in the Caribbean region. But I’m no Mafia Boss. There is no money to be earned in the casinos in St Maarten.
The Casino owner, who now has Dutch citizenship, has indeed a clean criminal record. In St Maarten he has never been charged with anything.
The Blogger Roumou, has been charged. The Prosecutor has stated that more than one person has filed complaints against her for slander, harassment, stalking, threats, extortion.. stalking on land and online. In the first week of July, she was arrested and jailed.
With the rise in violent crimes, the OM Prosecutors priorities were simply stunning to Chamber members such as Andre Bosman and Ronald Van Raak, who stood up against her illegal detention. Bosman tweeted: So when the judge wants to investigate an important political campaign contributor, who gave three million to political parties, when the judge wants to investigate vote buying, the Prosecutors claim that they lack the resources and manpower to investigate those felonious crimes. But a critical blogger who sharply criticizes the government and system, the prosecutors have the time and manpower for that? Local leaders such as Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson believes that Roumou’s criticism is psychologically based.. that “She sees ghost.”
“The is no clear evidence that corruption in St Maarten is deeply ingrained. We had Dutch police officers here since 2001, the detectives RST working together with local forces, have been active here. If Holland considers certain Casino bosses to be Mafiosos, why have they allowed it to continue for years?
About the complaints against Roumou he continues ” The Prosecutor has to investigate that, they are Dutch Prosecutors involved in that.
Peter de Witte, the St Maarten Chief of police cannot understand why Bosman and Van Raak would get involved and stand up for the bloggers rights to criticize his police department. In the Netherlands if you stop someone on a traffic violation they will also tell you to go and catch real criminals. Politicians should not involve themselves in these matters. Peter de Witte was the Chief of Police of Rotterdam, Holland for years. In 2003 he left for the Dutch islands, first Curacao, then Aruba, and for the past five years he’s headed the Police department of St Maarten, approx. 200 in his force. Next month he is OUT.
‘I have come to love the islands,’ he states as he sits on a terrace overlooking Great Bay, with a view of the enormous cruise ships that arrive daily to the port. He is irritated by the manner in which the Netherlands has spoken about St Maarten. ‘Everyone says that it is so corrupt here’.
The Netherlands fails to recognize St Maarten’s autonomy since 2010. ‘We began at ground zero’, and look where we are now. We have more resolved more corruption investigations
DeWitte admits that on various occassions his own officers have done misdeeds. ‘We have ways of dealing with that, it doesn’t mean that the entire Police Korp is corrupt. The police chief explains how insulted his officers were when Bouman spoke negatively about them. ‘In the five years that I’ve led here, no police information has been gotten illicitely, says the De Witte, we have to work together.
It is clear that not everyone on the island agrees with or likes Judith Roumou. But in the journey through the hilly, somewhat disorderly, over developed tropical island, it is also obvious how many people support her. On the long Central Shopping hub of BackStreet, where they sell colorful leggings on mannequins with perky derrieres..the ideal in the Caribbean, Many people approach her to greet her and to shake her hands.
“We’re reading you, Keep it up!” They hold her close to their heart. A broad shouldered police officer tells her in a flirtatious manner
“I like your style”
In Diamonds Casino, in the heart of Philipsburg, Roumou is greeted heartely by the Casino Controller.
‘’Judith at least dares to tell the truth’,he states. People such as the controller are Roumou’s sources of information, people who want to expose what they know and have seen but must remain anonymous, less they too become a pariah in this little island. The Casino controller explains that he and his colleagues, regularly accept bribes, and are paid off by the Casino bosses, when they want to keep the casino’s open beyond their regulated times. ‘And if I try to speak to my supervisor, they simply say: not so harsh… This is not the Netherlands.
Basically we do nothing he states. We only watch how much money someone like Corallo gives away. The Casino managers buy people
and the majority are afraid of the wealthiest, so they keep their mouths closed. The majority of Casino Controllers are also hooked on gambling, and they spend their work days playing and drinking, or they pretend to be sick. I hope that the Netherlands sends enough agents to control this issue.
Roumou says: Now you hear it from others, what I’ve been saying.
She wants to return home, to her cat and her chicken Ronald-Andre, who she named after the two politicians who stood up for her rights. Her dog and 4 cats were killed on the day she was arrested. The casino tour only becomes real with.. gambling.. In Casino Royale, the oldest casino in the Island located at Maho, where planes make their spectacular landing, visitors receive a welcome voucher of 10 dollars to play…
The popular fruit machines are played, and it does tease you into believing that you are winning, but quickly the ten dollars disappears into the machine. “Do you feel the excitement when you win something? That is how they get you addicted to the machines.’
According to the Dutch Ministry an intervention in St Maarten is necessary. The island of St Maarten is made up of the Dutch Side, on the South, and the Northern part is French (Saint Martin). In 2010, The Dutch side left the Antilles and along with Leeward Island Curacao became a semi-autonomous land of the Netherlands. Aruba already had separate status, and Bonaire, Saba and Statia joined as the BES Islands, provinces of the Netherlands.
St Maarten gained autonomy on October 10th 2010, within the Kingdom, then the tiny island of 16 square miles had to independently create its own system and institutions, there is a lot of concern about St Maarten in Holland.
Investigative Reports have show that there is little to nothing being done to stem the time of corruption. Next year, the Netherlands will be sending 55 Special Investigators to the island to investigate the corruption. The Dutch politicians and the Ministry of Justice feels that if something is not done now, at a certain point, the underworld will take over St Maarten. Research into St Maarten has proven that it is as corrupt as has been stated by the Netherlands.
St Maarten also has been ordered to get its budget in order, approx.. 100 million dollars remains unaccounted for, missing. The Rijksministeraad (Kingdom Council of Ministers) feels that St Maarten has had the chance to get things in order, but have chosen to ignore the issues.
Source: Volkskrant Charlotte Huisman