Woman guilty of stealing from a member of the Indian delegation
A NOW FORMER hotel worker cried as she contemplated the possibility of going to prison for her theft of money from one of the foreign officials co-ordinating the visit of the President of India.
Up until this incident Maruth Francois,of Diamond/ Sandy Bay had no criminal record, but now she must answer to the charge of, between May 14 and 19, at Villa, stealing US$1140 in cash, the property of Anju Sharma of Suriname.
According to the facts, Sharma is an employee in the office of the Ambassador of India and was responsible for organising for the President of India’s visit to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) last week.
Sharma arrived in SVG on May 4, and her first order of business in terms of preparations was to make reservations at the Beachcombers Hotel for the entire contingent. She also stayed in a room at this hotel. The defendant was assigned to clean the room in which Sharma was staying.
The last time that Sharma saw the money in the place where she had secured it was when she checked it on Saturday, May 14, following a phone call with her mother. Her mother had told her to secure her money as she was in another country. Sharma went to the laptop bag and checked her money, which amounted to US $1160. She placed the money in a piece of paper, put it back into the bag and then put it into the clothes cupboard.
The following Thursday, Sharma went to her laptop bag to retrieve some money to buy items as she and the First Lady of India were going out. However, she only found US$20.
The discovery left her in shock and she had to sit for approximately 20 minutes before she checked again, in disbelief that the money was really missing.
She informed the management of the hotel, and they in turn reported it to the police.
Corporal 858 Henry Hoyte led investigations. He took a statement from the defendant and searched her home. Her bank book was uncovered and when certain observations were pointed out to Francois she said that her boyfriend had sent money for her.
However, when taken to the Calliaqua police station and interviewed she admitted to the offence and EC$1790 was recovered.
Francois was arrested and charged.
The prosecutor, Sergeant Renrick Cato noted at the Serious Offences Court (SOC) on May 23, the breach of trust which had been placed in the defendant as it relates to the cleaning of the room.
He said the court could imagine Sharma being “… about to leave with the wife of the President and to discover in her presence that this money is missing here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Cato acknowledged that Francois has already lost her job and therefore the punishment can be deemed to have already begun. However, he said the case is of great public interest.
He informed the court that Sharma was leaving the country today and “obviously” she will want her money back, US$432 of which is outstanding.
While there are elements that the prosecutor said would go to the young woman’s favour such as her previously clean record and the fact that she pleaded guilty, given the seriousness of the offence combined with the negative effect it will have on SVG, he asked that the sentence be one to reflect the serious nature and be a deterrence.
He emphasised that crimes of this type should not be tolerated.
While compensation should be ordered, the Station Sergeant commented, “I am personally of the view that the defendant should also be given a quick shock at Her Majesty’s Prison as it relates to this offence” because of the nature, how it was committed, to whom, and the element of public interest.
Cato also added, “in the facts the virtual complainant, she has to sit for over 20 minutes and during that time the wife of the President was right there. What impact would that have? She couldn’t believe that her money was missing. Clearly the court must send a message..”
Chief Magistrate, Rechanne Browne said that the money would have to be paid immediately, “..Because this situation is highly embarrassing. It is grossly embarrassing for the country. I mean you’re in a position of trust and responsibility from the 4th to the 14th. You have been taking care of this room and you used and abused that relationship…” she queried.
Browne also considered that the aggravating factors of the crime would be weighty.
She said she would be considering the sentencing guidelines and there would be a number of things to consider, “But I mean this incident is really distasteful.”
However, Browne said she’s not going to decide that since Francois stole the money and it’s embarrassing ‘let me send’ her to prison for a period of, as an example, six months out of the two years maximum incarceration.
“…I have to look at the consequences and the seriousness of the offence. Consequences such as the emotional distress caused to the person – sitting down having to catch herself for this time. I am certain not even then wanting to disclose to the President because of her astonishment,” the magistrate said.
Further, while the defendant may not have thought the money would be missed, the magistrate told her, “you would not know how she came about the money so then you may say ‘it’s just $1140, it ain like $10,000 or $5000’, but it is to the person the value that was placed on it. You have to consider these things too.”
The level of planning was also thought to be sophisticated, with access to the room, scouting, and targeting tourists.
“…That’s another consideration the guidelines says. She is a tourist to St Vincent. She is on official duties but she is not resident here, she has come to the shores in [her] capacity of a tourist. These are things that, and these are deemed highly – not me saying so you know I’m following some guidelines from the court these are deemed as high,” Browne stated.
The magistrate also considered Sharma to be vulnerable for how occupied she must have been with her duties on the visit.
While there are no previous convictions in the defendant’s name, aggravating factors will include “the attempts to deceive and throw off the police with the source of your funds ‘oh my boyfriend send that for me’ that is an aggravating factor.”
On the other hand, “… the fact eventually that you came around to admitting it is mitigating. You have no previous convictions as I said before, and you have a three year old daughter…” However, the court did not register any remorse by Francois, who apparently asked “just give me a chance” to pay the money.
The defendant interjected that she had thought about the act and she thought that Sharma would have been present.
Lastly, the magistrate noted, “…there would have been a high level of distrust built towards Vincentians even though they would have received the hospitality and the caring of others – it’s going to be something that is etched in their minds.”
Browne stood down the matter for a few moments to consider the sentence before deciding to remand Francois for one night before sentencing.