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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