PHILIPSBURG – The Common Court of Justice has sentenced former Public Health Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus and her husband Claudius to a 25,000-guilders fine and 240 hours of community service each for tax fraud with their bogus company Eco Green. The appeal against the verdict from the Court in First Instance still paid off, because the conditional 12-month prison sentence it imposed is now off the table. The appeals court acquitted the Buncampers of most charges but held the couple accountable for filing incorrect tax returns for Eco Green – a company of which Claudius Buncamper and Maria Buncamper-Molanus were the ultimate beneficial owners.
The troubles for the Buncampers began back in 2010, when the Today newspaper revealed how they had sold the economic ownership of a piece of land on Soualiga Boulevard for $3 million to Eco Green in December 2008. The Buncampers held this land in long lease for an annual fee of around $10,000. Buncamper-Molanus was forced to step down as a minister before Christmas 2008.
The defendants established Eco Green based on advice from notary Gijsbertha. The appeals court ruled that they were within their rights to trust the notary’s expert advice. Eco Green was established as an entity to receive rental income from St. Maarten Building Supplies, the company that is actually using the land. This way, Eco Green – not the Buncampers – was supposed to pay taxes on the rental income.
The appeals court ruled that this construction with a dummy corporation that protects individuals from paying taxes is – though forbidden in the Netherlands – not illegal in the former Netherlands Antilles.
The court acquitted the Buncampers of membership of a criminal organization, and of forging a sales agreement in December 2013, stating that the right of long lease had been sold to St. Maarten Building Supplies for $345,000.
The charge that, by transferring the economic ownership to Eco Green, the Buncampers had intentionally evaded taxes did not fly either. The court failed to see why using the law on income tax would be punishable. The revenue from a source, like rental income, is taxable, but selling the right of long lease is not taxed. “Tax payers are free to choose methods by which they pay the least in taxes,” the court ruled.
But in spite of all the acquittals, one charge remained; the Buncampers willingly kept rental income for Eco Green to the tune of $225,000 hidden for the tax inspectorate for three years.
The Eco Green tax return for profit taxes the Buncampers showed in court listed a loss. But the court found that Eco Green had $225,000 in rental revenue and only $30,000 in expenditures; therefore, the court noted, the tax return should have shown a profit. The tax returns for 2009, 2010 and 2011 were incorrect and incomplete, the court ruled.
The tax advisor who completed the returns for the Buncampers did not know anything about the rental revenue; he based the returns on information he received from Maria Buncamper-Molanus.
The court ruled that the Buncampers intentionally filed several incorrect returns for profit taxes.
The defendants should have been role models, the court states in the ruling, because Maria Buncamper-Molanus was a prominent politicians at the time and Claudius Buncamper is a high ranking civil servant.
The Buncampers will each have to pay a fine of $25,000 or face 120 days in prison in case of non-payment. They will each have to perform 240 hours of community service; the defendants have two years to complete their community service.
Opinion piece “Moral aspects” by Hilbert Haar
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