Published On: Wed, May 11th, 2022

Follow the money

By Hilbert Haar

What more is there to say about the conflict between real estate developer Zebec and the harbor? What more is there to say about the role former politician Theo Heyliger played in this sordid story? And why are some people now turning against Zebec, simply because the company is using its right to claim damages?

It is tempting to get ahead of ourselves assuming that everything Zebec’s attorney Jacob Cornegoor stated in a letter in December is true. The validity of those claims will be determined by the court - and rightly so. This does not mean that Cornegoor’s description of what went down at the harbor is without merit. On the contrary, my personal impression is that the attorney is simply relating the results of a thorough investigation.

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

The facts seem so simple. Zebec was hired as the developer of a parcel of land within the harbor property. Its architects went to work. Then the harbor, seemingly in tune with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines threw a spanner in the works, setting a maximum of 10,000 square feet for retail and requiring that project would only provide “incidental commercial features.”

Once Zebec was kicked out of the project, Ocean Drive Properties (ODP) took its place and the aforementioned conditions were immediately dropped.

If that sounds reasonable to you, you need to have your head examined. Zebec was obviously not amused and it started digging around. What is found comes across as an inconvenient truth, aptly described by attorney Cornegoor as a criminal conspiracy driven by none other than former politician Theo Heyliger. Now it is up to the court to decide what is the truth and what is wishful thinking.

That Heyliger was waist-deep into the port-development seems a given. All the companies involved - Frivol Reality, Skylight Real Estate and Private Foundation Skyline - have the same ultimate beneficial owner: Theo Heyliger.

According to Cornegoor, all these companies had just one function: channel illicit payments back to Heyliger.

It is a given that the payment of these kickbacks never comes out of anybody’s pocket. That money is created by increasing the price of a project. At the end of the day, citizens are footing the bill one way or the other. It is a form of daylight robbery.

The question is now whether Heyliger was able to pull this stunt all on his own. Where was the management of the port? Where was the supervisory board? Where was the shareholder representative?

Mark Mingo was at the time all this played out the port’s managing director. He is, as we all know, gone from that position, but his Chief Financial Officer Tonny van Kooten is still there. And he did not know anything?

It is, as they say, hard to believe. You cannot commit grand theft in a small community like St. Maarten while those closest to you have no clue what you are up to. People notice things.

It is a good thing that a large part of this story is now out in the open. It is even better that the warring parties are taking their dispute to court. That’s the place where you get a fair and balanced judgment. The downside is that the court might grant Zebec a hell of a lot in damages in a potential multi-million dollar ruling. Guess who is going to pay for it.

While all this is going on I cannot help wondering about one thing. Where is the anger?  Why don’t people get up in arms to demand justice?

Ah, now that is a tricky question because the perception of justice among quite a few of our local citizens is, let’s say, slightly off the mark. Some people will always consider that the conviction of anyone who is considered a local, is the result of wrongdoing by the justice system.

Since we are living in a free country, people are free to think whatever they want. People have the right to be wrong.

Nevertheless, they ought to realize that it borders on insanity to stand up for fellow-citizens who are found guilty of serious wrongdoing and of fleecing the country of millions of dollars. Good thing that the court just allowed two psychiatrists to open a new practice.

The question that keeps rolling around in my mind is this one. Who benefits?

I guess that a logical way to find the answer is: follow the money. That is the best way to understand why people say what they are saying.

Apart from that, to everyone who is busy with clever embezzlement schemes at the expense of Joe Average or who is supporting those who are doing this: shame on you all.

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