Published On: Mon, May 9th, 2022

Zebec’s attorney reveals Theo Heyliger’s “criminal conspiracy”

PHILIPSBURG — Project developer Zebec intends to take St. Maarten Harbor Cruise Facilities (SMH Cruise) and others to court in an attempt to claim close to $100 million in damages it suffered after the port replaced Zebec with Ocean Drive Properties (ODP) as its preferred party for the development of a parcel of land within the port property.

Attorney Jacob Cornegoor (Hoff Attorneys, based in Haarlem) wrote a blistering letter to SMH Cruise on December 17, 2021, that reveals the role of former Member of Parliament and founder of the United People’s party UP) Theo Heyliger in the “corrupt practices” that resulted in Zebec’s ousting from the ambitious project.

On August 25, 2015, Zebec and the harbor settled their dispute for $5 million. At the time of the settlement, the harbor obtained a $10 million loan from SZV. The port used the other $5 million to reimburse Zebec for out-of-pocket expenses and procurement costs.

Related article: Civil inquiry: more “rotten apples” at the harbor

Cornegoor wrote that SMH Cruise “wrongfully withheld crucial information” during the negotiations about the settlement and that this agreement, therefore, does not extinguish the company’s liability. “Zebec was induced to enter into the settlement agreement by fraud which was part of a criminal conspiracy.”

Zebec has instructed its attorney, jointly with local attorney Jeroen Veen (Lexwell) to take legal action to recover damages. SMH Cruise has two options: invoke arbitration about the now disputed settlement or face litigation in the Court in First Instance.

Cornegoor stated that SMH Cruise is “well advised” to leave arbitration alone and to settle the dispute in court. “From a public relations point of view it would be awkward for a government-owned company not to have full confidence in the court,” the letter states. Opting for arbitration would create the impression that SMH Cruise wants “to hide the consequences of its participation in Mr. Heyliger’s scheme.”

Cornegoor explains in great detail in his letter how that scheme worked. It involved a series of companies that all had the same ultimate beneficial owner: Theo Heyliger.

On November 8, 2016, Private Foundation Skyline signed a lease agreement for a store at the harbor facility with a jewelry store.

“Skyline was part of Mr. Heyliger’s corrupt structure,” the letter states. SMH Cruise rented satellite stores to Frivol Reality and Frivol leased the stores “at substantially higher prices” to the actual users. A report from the anticorruption task force (TBO) identified Heyliger as Frivol’s ultimate beneficial owner.

Frivol did not provide any additional services to the users of the stores. “Frivol did not serve any legitimate purpose. It served to channel kickbacks to Mr. Heyliger. “

The company-carousel merrily continued over time: Frivol was succeeded by Skylight Real Estate which in turn was succeeded by Private Foundation Skyline, the original lessor of “the bastions developed by ODP.” From this setup, Cornegoor concludes that “Skyline is also a conduit for illegal payments to Mr. Heyliger.”

That’s not the end of the story, because ODP succeeded Skyline as the lessor of the aforementioned jewelry store. Because the lease agreement did not change, the letter identified ODP “also as a conduit for illegal payments to Mr. Heyliger.”

Cornegoor furthermore points out that SMH Cruise persuaded RCCL (Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines) and SMQDC (the St. Maarten Quarter Development Company) to obstruct the development at the port by Zebec by imposing two conditions: a limit of 10,000 square meters on commercial space and a provision that the development would be for “incidental commercial features” only. When Zebec was replaced by ODP these conditions were dropped.

“The conditions were used as a pretext to remove Zebec and have it replaced by a party willing to participate in Mr. Heyliger’s corrupt practices,” the letter states.


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Update: Readers have been granted temporary access to the rest of this article in anticipation of the court hearing which is to be held on Wednesday, June 29, 2022.

Heyliger’s “criminal conspiracy” pushed developer Zebec out

The Zebec Development Company is back with a vengeance in an attempt to claim damages from the failed development of a parcel of land within the St. Maarten cruise terminal. Hoff Advocaten, a law office established in Haarlem, demands damages to the tune of $97 million in a letter dated December 17, 2021.

Zebec was initially contracted to develop the parcel of land within the cruise terminal, but the project stalled when Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) demanded that the retail area (including food and beverage) be limited to 10,000 square feet (around 930 square meters) and that the project could only provide “incidental commercial features.”

Zebec threatened the port with a $100 million claim but settled later for a payment of $10 million, an amount the port financed through a loan from SZV. But Zebec, a company owned by the Gioia brothers, was not happy with the outcome, especially because the development was later entrusted to ODP (Ocean Drive Properties) and because the conditions that had hamstrung Zebec’s plans were suddenly dropped. “The project developed by ODP is purely commercial and provides for retail space in considerable excess of 10,000 square feet,” attorney Jacob Cornegoor writes in his letter.

Zebec went to work and began to investigate the reasons behind RCCL’s demands. What they found, the letter states, is “a criminal conspiracy to have Zebec replaced by ODP in order to be in a position to siphon from the proceeds of the development that rightfully belong to the community of St. Maarten.”

The letter mentions three companies that are involved in the saga: Frivol Realty, Skylight Real Estate and Private Foundation Skyline. Zebec found that these companies all share the same ultimate beneficiary owner: former politician and founder of the United People’s party Theo Heyliger. “You have made strenuous efforts to hide this fact, but those efforts have been in vain,” the letter from Hoff Advocaten states.

The letter is addressed to five parties and states that they are all equally responsible for the damages caused to Zebec. The addressees are: Ocean Drive Properties (Jelle Hamstra), Theo Heyliger, Peter Mirpuri, Danny Ramchandani and Ronald Elferink.

Experts who reviewed the damages Zebec suffered concluded that they amount to $97 million. Hoff Advocaten states that the five addressees of its letter are equally responsible for these damages. “My firm was instructed to commence legal action to recover such damage,” Cornegoor writes, adding that these actions will begin in the Court in First Instance in St. Maarten, “unless I receive an unconditional admission of liability from each of the addressees of this letter within two weeks.”


Related articles:
Letter Zebec lawyer to ODP et al
Letter Zebec lawyer to SMH Cruise
Heyliger and four others stand trial in large bribery-case
Theo Heyliger: ‘I never accepted money from Maasdam’
Larimar-trial: 3 years demand against Maasdam, UP board claims innocence for Heyliger
Civil inquiry: more “rotten apples” at the harbor