Prospective buyers take Sapphire owners to courtPOSTED: 11/10/15 4:50 PM
Prospective buyers take Sapphire owners to court
St. Maarten – A $10 million deal to purchase the Sapphire Beach Club in Cupecoy from Jean and Philippe Verdier threatens to go horribly wrong for Bruno Sitbon, his wife and two daughters. The family made a $600,000 down payment on the property under a preliminary purchase agreement and spent $300,000 on renovations but when this agreement expired on September 5 of last year, the Verdiers called off the deal and kept the down payment.
On Friday there is an urgent court procedure to sort out the conflict.
“The owner refuses to honor the purchase agreement,” says Sitbon.
The financiers of the deal posed two requirements to the Sitbon family: that they provide proof of their personal wealth and that they submit an audited report about the state of the business at Sapphire. Those latter documents had to be provided by the sellers, but they confronted Sitbon with delay after delay, until the preliminary purchase agreement expired.
Sitbon’s wife, who is doing accounting for the family business, says that she found a forged invoice in the Sapphire administration for an amount of $830,000.
“When we asked the owner for an explanation, they suddenly did not want to sell anymore,” Sitbon says in rapid French. “We found that they were embezzling money and that practically none of the employees had valid papers. When we asked for an explanation everything changed. They even forbid the staff to talk with us.”
Sitbon entered into a deal with the Sapphire owners in 2012. They agreed that he could live at the resort while the purchase agreement was completed. In the meantime, Sitbon renovated the resort for an investment of around $300,000.
“We built a macarone-shop, a souvenir shop, a store for beauty products and we renovated the mini market and the hairdresser’s salon. We also built an Italian restaurant and a sushi restaurant and we renovated all the bars and building 1.”
A plan to renovate the gym at the dilapidated resort was put on hold after the relationship with the Verdiers soured.
The Sitbon family first obtained financing from FirstCaribbean Bank and later, when the Verdiers failed to come up with the audited accounts, a Canadian pension fund showed interest – but it put the same conditions as the local bank.
The family soon found that they were no longer welcome at the resort. There was an eviction order, but before it came to that point, the resort blocked entrance to their apartments and cut off water and electricity. The police had to intervene to get them back into their condos.
Sitbon says that in a period of ten days, the tires of his car were slashed six times.
In spite of all the resistance from the Verdiers, Sitbon insists that he is still interested in buying the resort.
“That is at stake in the court procedure,” says Christian de Jong, the Sitbon’s attorney. “We ask the court that the Verdiers honor the purchase agreement.”
In June, Sapphire wrote a letter to its timeshare owners, threatening to cancel their contracts unilaterally because of unpaid maintenance fees. The resort also mentioned a “preliminary agreement with a North American 4-star hotel chain” that would materialize as soon as the renovations were completed.
RCI, the largest timeshare broker in the world, suspended Sapphire’s contract earlier this year because of the resort’s deplorable state. In June, the Verdiers wrote to their timeshare owners that “all internal and external exchanges can be realized through Interval International.”
Jeff Berger, the editor of the electronic newsletter St. Maarten Weekly News noted in June that the examples of Interval-resorts the Verdiers letter refers to are “resorts other than Sapphire in nice tropical locations like China.” Berger also noted that exchanges through Interval are 15 to 20 percent cheaper than those via RCI.
Bruno Sitbon told this newspaper yesterday that the Sapphire-owners are collecting maintenance fees and that they never do any maintenance; “instead, they manufacture forged invoices to show that maintenance was done.”