UPDATE: Theo acquitted in Catfish case

By Daily Herald,

PHILIPSBURG–Suspended Member of Parliament (MP) Theo Heyliger was acquitted of all charges in the Catfish investigation by the Court of First Instance on Thursday. Heyliger was facing twelve months in prison, six of which were to be suspended, and a five-year suspension of his passive voting rights.

During the trial on October 24, the Prosecutor considered it proven that both Heyliger (49) and co-suspect J.M.S. (71) attempted to bribe former MP Romain Laville with money and a ministerial post to “jump ship.” At the hearing, the Prosecutor did not consider it proven that Laville was also offered a parcel of land.

S., who was Laville’s political advisor and mentor, was facing a demand of 120 hours of community service, 60 of which were to be suspended, and a five-year suspension of his passive voting rights. He was also acquitted of all the charges in this case on Thursday.

The Catfish investigation started in March 2013 after Laville filed an official complaint with the National Detectives of attempted bribery to “jump ship.”

Heyliger and S. were both charged with having attempted to bribe Laville during the period of September 1, 2012, to July 25, 2013. The suspicion was that both made various promises to Laville with the intention that he would give up his seat in Parliament, thus withdrawing support from the then-Wescot-Williams II Cabinet.

Sums of money ranging from US $135,000 to $350,000 were allegedly promised to Laville. A post as Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) in the then new Cabinet to be formed was also offered, all of this if Laville “obliged by giving up his seat in Parliament,” which would then go to Heyliger, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.

The Court said in a press release that there was not enough evidence to substantiate the charges. “The only witness who also said Heyliger offered money to Laville, said he got his information from Laville, so from the same source.”

The Court also said that the offer of a ministerial post is “part of the legitimate political process in a democratic country where coalitions need to be forged to achieve workable majorities” and therefore “there is no question of bribery.”

Heyliger declined to comment on the verdict when contacted by The Daily Herald on Thursday afternoon.

Feautured photo: St Maarten News