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Published On: Mon, Jul 4th, 2022

Zebec claims over Dutch Village in courts now

~ Defense lawyers to present case September 6 ~

PHILIPSBURG -- Real estate developer Zebec was in court on Wednesday with its demand of $97 million in compensation from the Harbor Group of Companies and others for the abandonment of the Dutch Village project. There is a lot at stake in this case - and it’s not only money. The reputation of former politician Theo Heyliger and that of Indian merchants like Danny Ramchandani and Peter Miripuri is also in the mix.

In December of last year attorney Jacob Cornegoor wrote a blistering letter to St. Maarten Harbor Cruise Facilities outlining Heyliger’s role in what he labeled as “corrupt practices” that resulted in the ousting of Zebec from the Dutch Village project.

Related article: Zebec’s attorney reveals Theo Heyliger’s “criminal conspiracy”

The formal excuse for aborting the cooperation with Zebec was at the time that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines wanted to limit commercial space to 10,000 square feet (929 square meter). RCCL also wanted a provision that the development would be for “incidental commercial features” only. But attorney Cornegoor wrote in his letter that the idea for these changes did not come from the cruise line at all. “SMH Cruise persuaded RCCL to obstruct the development by Zebec.”

When Ocean Drive Properties (ODP) replaced Zebec as the preferred developer for the project, these conditions were dropped.

Zebec settled the dispute with the harbor on August 25, 2015, for $5 million, though the port borrowed double that amount from SZV. It used the other $5 million for “out of pocket expenses and procurement,” Cornegoor wrote to SMH Cruise.

So why is the case now in court, after the parties settled? According to Cornegoor, Zebec was “induced to enter into a settlement agreement by fraud which was part of a criminal conspiracy.”

Cornegoor mentions several companies that all have Theo Heyliger as their ultimate beneficial owner. He explained in great detail how, in his opinion, these companies were used to channel illicit payments to Heyliger.

It is now up to the court to hear arguments from the parties involved and to separate fact from fiction.

Whether SMH Cruise will follow Cornegoor’s advice to forget arbitration about the rekindled dispute and to settle matters in court, remains to be seen. “For a government-owned company it would be awkward not to have full confidence in the court.” Cornegoor wrote in December 2021.

While it is unknown if the Harbor Group of Companies will go into arbitration, attorney Kim Huisman has been appointed to represent businessmen Ramchandani and Miripuri who normally do business with the law office of BZSE, but this law firm had to withdraw because it represented SMPS (St. Maarten Port Servies) in its fight with Tropical Shipping. Huisman is also in a relationship with Gert Bergman, one of the partners in the BZSE-firm.

Cruise line RCCL is represented by the Dutch law office Houthoff Advocaten that will use Mayesi Hammoud as its local counsel. Hammoud works for Ox & Wolf Legal Partners in Curacao. According to the company’s website, Hammoud is “an experienced litigator who represents local and international clients in a wide range of civil matters.” She is also a member of the supervisory councils for attorneys in Curacao and Aruba and a member of the civil service and arbitration committee in Curacao.

Roland Duncan - indeed, the father of parliamentarian Ludmila Duncan - is the attorney for Theo Heyliger’s companies. The involvement of Roland Duncan is not remarkable as it may seem given his daughter’s sudden resignation from the National Alliance party on the same day he acted as counsel for Heyliger last week. Duncan’s law firm Duncan & Brandon has worked for Heyliger’s shipping companies for many years. Whether there is a link to his daughter’s decision to leave the National Alliance and declare herself an independent member of parliament is anybody’s guess. But the rumor mill has been going wild over the weekend, suggesting that the leadership of Heyliger’s UP party is in disarray as the party leader MP Rolando Brison is desperately seeking more MPs in parliament to support his shaky one seat majority coalition with a new coalition agreement while two members of the UP faction, including the President of Parliament, are apparently not in support of this move. In any event, this apparent political shakeup all has to do with the wish to have former port manager Roger Lawrence replaced as minister of TEATT, the minister that acts as shareholder representative for the harbor group of companies. Lawrence is currently on sick leave.

Last week’s court proceedings, which is just the start of the litigation process, has some of the defendants in panic mode. On Tuesday, September 6, the attorneys for the defense will have their first opportunity to present their case against the Zebec claims. However, according to sources at the port, Heyliger’s companies were in negotiations to take over the ownership and operations of the cranes from the port. With a court date now set in September, the pressure is on the Port CEO Alexander Gumbs to sign off on the deal before it is too late. Noteworthy in this whole affair is the lack of any comments or official communication about the Zebec case from the Government of Sint Maarten as the shareholder of the Harbor Group of Companies. It remains to be seen if the Council of Ministers or the shareholder representative for the port and harbor group of companies will step in and order the supervisory and management boards of the holding company to investigate any and all business dealings with Theo Heyliger and the companies he is affiliated with at the harbor and cruise facilities.

See other related articles:
How Heyliger delivered a near monopoly to Tropical Shipping (Part 1)
Theo Heyliger even deeper involved in Port activities (Part 2)

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