St. Maarten officials probe opposition leader as part of bribery investigation

Authorities in St. Maarten are investigating allegations that the leader of the Dutch territory's main opposition party asked the manager of a strip club to help blackmail a fellow legislator.

Solicitor General Taco Stein said late Monday that officials expanded the probe after local media reported that Theo Heyliger, leader of the United People's Party, sought to blackmail legislator Patrick Illidge so he could break the current ruling coalition and take control of government.

Illidge is an independent parliamentarian but forms part of St. Maarten's governing coalition.

A recently publicized video showed him seeming to accept stacks of money from the manager of the Bada Bing strip club in Simpson Bay as they discussed business permits. The video dated Sept. 30, 2012 was sent anonymously to a local newspaper last week.

Heyliger did not respond to requests for comment, while Illidge has said there is more than "meets the eye" to the video and that the truth will be revealed in coming days. He has since declined further comment.

In the video, strip club manager Jaap van den Heuvel takes money out of a safe and says in Dutch: "At this moment I only have 15. We're almost there, it's almost arranged, only 30 left. You know what it is, we just had a very (expletive) quiet month. I can't take too much out. If I take too much out, then it will be obvious. Understand what I mean?"

The two men are heard talking about securing a club permit as well as extending employment permits for the dancers. Van den Heuvel also requested that his business be allowed to remain open until 5 a.m.

Van den Heuvel has not responded to requests for comment, but a local news website published a letter that Van den Heuvel had sent his attorney describing the handover as repayment of a loan from Illidge and saying that saying that the opposition party leader had asked him to record a video of the payment so it could be used to pressure Illidge into returning to Heyliger's party.

He also said the video was supposed to remain private and accused Heyliger of sending it to a local newspaper.

Van den Heuvel's attorney, Cor Merx, verified the contents of the letter to The Associated Press.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams has asked that people wait until the facts were in before rushing to judgment.

St. Maarten is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and shares an island with the French dependency of St. Martin.