The Supreme Court sentenced prominent Santo businessman Kuvu Noel, former senior police officer Ron Tamtam, Joe Johnny and Bebe Stanley to two years and nine months in prison yesterday, for threatening and demanding money from another businessman in Santo.
Co-offenders James Wells, War Rukon, John Remen, Jack Noel, Peter Noel, Steve Nov, Tom Steward and Robert Niel were sentenced to eight months imprisonment suspended for 18 months as of yesterday.
Each was then ordered to serve 150 hours community work and to pay the VT15,000 compensation ordered by the court.
Justice Gustaaf Andrée Wiltens said this was a matter of a land dispute in which Steven Remy also made some breach in regards to a restraining order that was placed in the area since the dispute was in limbo.
The judge said the complainant of this case Remy had an agreement with Jerome Natu to quarry sand on some of his lands in Teproma area, Santo.
Remy had proper permits by the government and was glad to enter business with Mr Natu who had showed him a Green Certificate, which means he owns the land concerned.
But Noel and his associates disputed Natu’s claim on the land. They were not satisfied that Remy is paying the annual rent to Natu, instead of paying them.
Justice Wiltens said that this has been subjected to several altercations over a number of years with Remi claiming he had a valid permit and was dealing with a legitimate landowner – and he did not agree to cease his quarrying operation.
On September 7 2018, Noel and his men went placing the ‘Namele leaves’ as a sign of taboo at the quarrying site and took off with the keys of every machines.
Later on that day six trucks carrying Noel and his men went to Mr Remy’s office, demanding money with menace and even told him to give them VT1 million for rent immediately or they will kill him.
Prior to their arrival, Remi locked his seven-year-old son in a container for his safety and called the police.
The judge described the group as ‘angry and hostile’ swearing at Remy, calling him a thief and telling him to go back to his home island of Malekula.
Faced with a large volatile group demanding records to see the three years of royalties amounted to in which they could not locate it in the computer, Remy was inevitably scared and he asked the employee to write a cash cheque for Vt1 million which he signed and gave to Mr Kuvu Noel. He then asked for the keys to his quarry machines to be returned.
The group then dispersed, cashed the cheque and went to Noel’s wharf where they shared the amount among themselves.
Most of the group admitted the offence during police caution but Tamtam, Stanley, and Johnny made partial confessions.
Noel declined to make any comment during the interview.
During trial this week, two of the prosecution witnesses decided to file guilty pleas. The case then resumed yesterday and the men were sentenced.
The court also ordered the Johnny, Stanley, Tamtam and Noel to pay Remy VT250,000 by way of monthly installments of VT50,000 every first working day of the five months following their release from prison.
“It is apparent that the other defendants all shared some of the money derived from Mr Remy’s cashed cheque”, the judge said.
“Each of Wells, Rukon, Remen, Noel (Jack), Peter Noel, Nov, Steward and Nial cannot be permitted to gain from their criminal involvement.
“Each must pay VT15,000 to Mr Remy by September 3, 2019”. That can be considered roughly equal to the interest Mr Remy has lost on the capital sum.