St. Maarten Airport paid chairman nearly $8,000 for stolen briefcase

POSTED: 02/21/14 2:47 PM

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Princess Juliana International Airport paid the chairman of its supervisory board of directors, Clarence Derby, in 2011 almost $8,000 in compensation for a briefcase that was reportedly stolen from him during a trip to the Airport Terminal Expo in Copenhagen. This appears from documents that are in the possession of this newspaper.

On 9-6-2011 the airport wrote a check for $7,845.08 with the description “reimbursement of lost items during business trip” even though a memo from the director of the financial department, Shirley Pantophlet-Gregoria (dated august 3, 2011) stated: “The legal basis for the SBOD resolution to reimburse Mr. Derby is not clear.” SBOD is the abbreviation for Supervisory Board of Directors. The airport declined to comment because it considers the compensation it paid an internal matter.

The payment is unusual according to experts in labor law. The Handbook Labor Law, written by G.E.M. Polkamp, a judge at the Common Court of Justice in Curacao, states the following about the responsibility of employers for property of their employees. “The main rule is that the employer is not liable for damages to property of the employee that he uses during the execution of his tasks, especially not when the damage is due to the employee. However, if it is about a property of the employee that when used is exposed to the risk of serious damages, the employer is liable according to the Supreme Court, unless there is intention or consciously reckless behavior by the employee.”

The memo states that the finance department received (amongst other documents) a letter from the Minister of Vromi (Theo Heyliger): “This letter certifies that Mr. Derby’s briefcase contained approximately $3,000 in cash, along with other valuables and documents.”

A second document was the resolution by the Supervisory Board of Directors “to reimburse the loss suffered by the chairman.”

In a letter dated April 28, 2011, Derby explained how he became the victim of thieves on April 5 at the airport in Berlin, while he was waiting for a flight to Miami. Derby was traveling with the airport’s managing director Regina Labega and with then Deputy Prime Minister and Vromi-Minister Theo Heyliger.

“Upon checking in the minister and I went to get a coffee at a small café in the airport. The minister volunteered to watch our carryon luggage while I got a cup of coffee. While being attended to, I saw a female talking with the minister. Upon returning to the table, I noticed that my briefcase was gone. In reviewing the security cameras, it was revealed that the lady acted as a decoy while a male snatched my briefcase.”

The theft was devastating to Derby: “The loss and inconvenience to me was tremendous. I lost among other things my passport, therefore preventing me from entering the United States to visit my family.” Candidly, Derby added: “The monetary loss was also quite heavy of which I bear some responsibility.”

The letter contains an extensive inventory of the contents of Derby’s briefcase. Apart from $3,000 in cash, he listed “a $750 Tiffany pen which I had over 25 years”, the Hugo Boss briefcase valued at almost $600, glassed worth $758, a camera, Ipod, Bose headphones and “gold crown cufflinks given to me by a member of the royal family.” Derby also lost all receipts he had collected during the trip.

Another claim in the letter is a bit mysterious: “Ms. Labega, the deputy prime minister and myself were calculated by the airport at $1.32 to the euro to a total of $4,654.55. However, while we were in Europe the exchange rate was $1.46 which in effect gave us a total of $3,526.17 – resulting in a shortage to each of us of $1,128.38.”

There were obviously also additional travel expenses, because Derby had to spend an extra night in Berlin, and travel home via Paris, where he also had to spend the night.

On May 13, the supervisory board of directors passed a resolution to compensate derby for all his losses. “Taking into consideration the purpose of the travel on PJIAE NV business, the nature of the claim, witness accounts and the overall circumstances surrounding the event of theft in Berlin, the Board of Supervisory Directors deemed it fair to reimburse the loss suffered by the chairman,” the resolution states. It is signed by board members Melinda Hoeve, Gary Matser, Regina Labega and Whitfield Vlaun.

The board furthermore resolved to ask management “to provide travel insurance coverage for officers attending conferences, congresses and any other related PJIAE NV business.” As we understand it, the decision was taken not to take out such insurance, because in would end up being more expensive than covering incidental losses.

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