Court documents indicate: Theo Heyliger attempted to blackmail Tender Services

POSTED: 11/14/14 9:22 AM

St. Maarten/ By Hilbert Haar – United People’s party leader Theo Heyliger attempted in 2001 to blackmail the owner of St. Maarten Tender Services, Bobby Velasquez, with a bogus consultancy contract in the name of Coal Pot Inc., an offshore company established in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Heyliger wanted to collect $0.25 for each cruise passenger Tender Services transported in the harbor. Velasquez refused to go along.

This appears from court documents this newspaper has in its possession. The long and bitter fight between St. Maarten Harbor Cruise Facilities NV and the St. Maarten Harbor Holding Company NV versus St. Maarten Tender Services over the introduction of a 1-dollar harbor security fee culminated in a series of court cases in 2008 and 2009.

Tender Services lost the lawsuits. On February 17, 2009, the Court in First Instance ordered the company to pay Cruise Facilities $113,748. In a repair-verdict of March 17, 2009, the court ordered the company to pay even more: $617,013.

Tender Services appealed the verdict, and in his written argument to the Common Court of Justice, its attorney Jairo Bloem outlined on May 5, 2009 the attempt at extortion by Commissioner Heyliger back in 2001.

The user-agreement between Tender Services and the Ports Authority dates back to December 4, 2000, according to the written argument. This newspaper has a copy of the argument in its possession. On July 4, 2001, Commissioner Heyliger made a handwritten modification to the contract, Bloem states. This copy of this document shows indeed handwritten changes, but the signatures on it are from Bobby Velasquez and Rommel Charles, at the time managing director of the St. Maarten Ports Authority. With his signature, Velasquez agreed to pay $0.25 per passenger upon completion of “additional construction” and $500 per month for the “rent of additional office space at the new tender jetty” that would open officially at the end of the month, on July 30, 2001.

So far so good. Then Bloem presented the court with a concept contract between Coal Pot Inc. and Tender Services that would oblige the later party to pay $0.25 per passenger “for so-called consultancy services” to Coal Pot. “What those services include is not stated in the concept contract,” Bloem stated. This newspaper has a copy of the draft contract in its possession.

Based on 1.5 million annual cruise passengers and 60 percent of them using the tender services, such a contract would have been worth $225,000 per year. Numbers obviously change as number of cruise arrivals increase and percentage of tender-use goes up.

Duncan and Brandon Management and Collection Services – a company of former Justice Minister Roland Duncan – is mentioned as the representative of Coal Pot in the concept contract. The agreement would have been for a period of five years with an option to extend it with another five years.

The attorney also provided the court with the number of Coal Pot’s bank accounts at the Northern Trust Bank of Florida, complete with the information needed to facilitate bank transfers to this account.

Bloem then told the court the following: “Your council has to know that the consultancy agreement and the bank data were hand-delivered to the director of Tender Services, Robert Owen Velasquez, by Commissioner Theo Heyliger in person, with the request to collect $0.25 per transported passenger and thereby get a piece of Tender’s profit.”

In short, Tender Services was expected to pay $0.25 per passenger to the Ports Authority and the same amount to Coal Pot.

Was Bloem grabbing for straws in a desperate attempt to overturn the verdict of the lower court? That is not likely, given the following statement to the court: “Tender offers explicitly evidence, by submitting video footage that show that Mr. Heyliger not only hand-delivered the contact and the bank data, but that he also let his wish be known to cash part of tender’s income, which he discussed extensively.”

Here is the kicker from Bloem’s argument: “The video footage shows that the director of Tender had indicated that he could not go along with the commissioner’s request that actually was a form of extortion. Tender was prepared, if the commissioner bought a number of motor sloops, to operate them for the commissioner and give him the proceeds. The commissioner then provided Tender with a number of forged invoices, that indicated that another entity than Tender supposedly operated the motor sloops that are in the possession of Tender, and therefore was entitled to a certain compensation.”

Tender offered proof to the court by submitting copies of these invoices. Bloem made clear that Tender did not agree with this way of doing things either.

Bloem explained to the court that Tender Services had a security camera in the office of its director that registers 24/7 what happens in that room.

At the heart of court case were Tender’s objections against the introduction of a 1-dollar harbor security fee per passenger on October 1, 2007. Bloem noted that this fee targets “for more than 90 percent” only Tender Services. “It is meant to put Tender Services under pressure and to complicate the management of its business, and as retribution for the fact that Tender did not want to pay bribes to a commissioner,” the attorney told the court.

Bloem did not use these arguments in the Court in First Instance, assuming that the court does not like conspiracy theories and furthermore thinking that it had sufficient arguments to make the court see that the harbor security fee is “random and unreasonably damaging.” Since the court saw things differently, “Tender feels the need to explain in this last instance that she is de facto being blackmailed.”

Nevertheless, Tender Services spoke with Commissioner Heyliger after the court cases in First Instance and said it was prepared to pay the harbor security fee in exchange for an extension of its user-agreement with the Harbor Group of Companies. Bloem established the result of these talks in an agreement, but the reaction from Commissioner Heyliger was negative: “He comes with completely different demands than what was discussed. He is also of the opinion that Tender is making a lot of money and he determines at random the additional fees Tender has to pay.”

This newspaper has not been able to unearth the verdict of the Common Court of Justice.

We asked the Public Prosecutor’s Office whether it had investigated Tender Services’ extortion claim in 2009. “In general the question is whether this is extortion as it is described in the penal code,” press officer Tineke Kamps wrote in an email to this newspaper. When I read this, I do not think that this is extortion in the legal sense.”

Apart from that, the press officer noted, “the prosecutor’s office will not begin an investigation solely bases on a statement by a lawyer in a civil case. Such a statement must be seen in the context of the civil case and the interests that are at stake there.”

Kamps furthermore stated that an extortion case must come to the attention of the police and the prosecutor’s office. “Usually this happens through a complaint. It is not so that detectives are reading all civil cases (they do not have the authority to do that, nor do they have the practical possibilities) to be able to start an investigation. In short, I don’t think so.”

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