Published On: Wed, Apr 18th, 2018

St. Maarten sent to prison for tax fraud

SXM-Chanel-Brownbill-EmeraldPHILIPSBURG - United Democrats Member of Parliament (MP) Chanel Brownbill was sentenced Tuesday by the Court of First Instance to eighteen months, fifteen of which were suspended, on three years’ probation, with 240 hours of community service, in the “Emerald” case.

The Court found it proven that Brownbill had deliberately failed to declare income and turnover tax for US $1,261,078 in invoices paid by the St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies to Country Construction company’s bank account. These payments to the company, of which the MP is the sole proprietor, were made from 2009 up to and including 2016.

Brownbill and his lawyer Safira Ibrahim immediately filed for appeal after the verdict was handed down.

During the March 29 hearing, the Prosecutor’s Office had called for a prison sentence of 18 months and payment of a conditional fine of NAf. 250,000, on two years’ probation.

The Court presented its decision in Brownbill’s case and in the cases of four other owners of one-man construction companies via video-conferencing.

In the Emerald investigation seven proprietors of one-man construction businesses are accused of income and turnover-tax evasion in a corruption ring at the St. Maarten Port between 2013 and 2016. In total, the companies deprived country St. Maarten of more than NAf. 6 million in tax revenue, according to the Tax Office.

In contrast to the other suspects in this case, who were given suspended prison sentences with community service, the Court ruled that Brownbill’s behaviour merited an unconditional prison term.

The Court said it was “incomprehensible and unacceptable” that he had not held himself accountable for tax fraud. “On the one hand, he enjoys a generous income as a Member of Parliament. On the other hand, at the public hearing he refused to explain to the community how he arrived at the considerable tax fraud which has disadvantaged the same community,” the Court stated in the verdict.

Despite promises to be open about the case, the Parliamentarian consistently appealed to his right to remain silent. In contradiction to other defendants in this case, he failed to provide insight into his actions, and had failed to show any remorse, the Court said.

The Prosecutor specifically stated during the hearing of the case that Brownbill would not be prosecuted for forgery of company invoices, but also this statement could not persuade the MP to abandon his right to remain silent.

According to the Judge, there are strong indications that Brownbill is more to be blamed than other suspects, as he may have been involved not only in tax fraud, but also in the forgery of documents.

Appeals to the so-called repentance regulation (“inkeerregeling”) for taxpayers who had not filed for taxes but were willing to settle the matter out of Court failed, according to the Court. Brownbill had not started to settle the matter with the Tax Office until after the Harbour Group of Companies, the homes of a friend and a distant cousin, and his company were searched in the Emerald investigation, the Court stated.

The other suspects in the Emerald case were not sent to prison. Most of them have blank criminal records and the Court deemed it “plausible” they had only kept a fraction of the money involved in the fraud for themselves.

Owner of Caviar Construction Chester M. Euton was sentenced to 12 months suspended, on three years’ probation, and 240 hours of community service for tax fraud.

Sindo R.A. Davis and Shervin E. Williams both received 12 months suspended, and 180 hours of community service, on similar charges.

Davis, who is the owner of Jazz General and Operational Contracting Company, allegedly was paid US $1.7 million for harbour-related work between February 2012 and November 2016. He said he had not filed for taxes because bookkeeping was his “biggest nightmare.” In his case, the Tax Office calculated a loss of NAf. 1.3 million over the years 2013 up to and including 2016.

Owner of Select Trucking ServicesKarim G. Lake received six months suspended, on three years’ probation, and 240 hours of community service.

The Court of First Instance had already ruled in the cases of two other suspects on February 22. One of them was given a suspended prison sentence of 12 months and 120 hours of community service, and the other six months suspended and 240 hours of community service.

In all these cases the Prosecutor had called for 15-month prison sentences, on two years’ probation and a fine of NAf. 250,000.

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