As he left the Courthouse, Minister Omar Ottley told the media that he had been able to refute the allegations against him.
~ During defamation case session ~
PHILIPSBURG--The defamation case brought by Minister of Public Health, Social Affairs and Labor VSA Omar Ottley against businessman Olivier Arrindell did not produce any concrete evidence of corruption on the minister’s part during the hearing on Friday.
Whether there is reasonable doubt is up to the judge to assess on the basis of documents submitted by both parties.
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, Minister of Justice Anna Richardson and several dozen government officials had taken the morning off to follow the proceedings as spectators in the public gallery, together with relatives, friends and fellow party members of Minister Ottley wearing green United People's (UP) Party T-shirts. Among them were UP party leader Rolando Brison and Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Chief of Cabinet Francisco Lacroes.
The public gallery was almost entirely occupied by Minister Ottley’s supporters. Defendant Arrindell pointed at his wife at the back of the room as one of his few supporters inside the courthouse; most of his supporters were outside the building, on Wathey Square, not allowed to follow the case in person due to lack of space.
All rose when the judge entered the Pineapple Room at 8:38am. The judge welcomed those present in Dutch. Arrindell, who does not speak Dutch, was assisted by an interpreter. When the judge asked Ottley whether he understands Dutch, he answered negatively, but he did not wish to use an interpreter.
Ottley gave the floor to attorney Shaira Bommel, who serves the VSA Ministry as a contracted policy advisor and also assists the Ottley family as independent criminal lawyer in the case of Dante Ottley, the minister's brother who was convicted of manslaughter and is awaiting extradition from the United States to serve a 20-year sentence in St. Maarten. Bommel made her plea in Dutch, which, except for the minister, was impossible for many in the public gallery to follow.
Bommel argued that Arrindell had falsely accused Ottley of corruption, bribery and theft in numerous videos. Arrindell also alleged that Ottley had helped his younger brother flee the island to the United States to avoid prison following his conviction on appeal for a fatal shooting at El Capitan adult entertainment club in Sucker Garden on December 31, 2018.
These accusations, the lawyer said, “are not only completely false but also unnecessarily offensive.” According to Bommel, Arrindell abuses her client every day and is in no way inclined to stop this. “The footage and audio recordings are very quickly distributed online by the defendant and others with the aim of smearing the good name and honour of the minister.” The lawyer pointed out that Arrindell "knows the meaning of defamation very well," as he recently accused publisher Carlos Daantje of defamation after the publication of a negative piece about him in the newspaper Nobo on Curaçao.
The judge asked Arrindell and Ottley whether it was true that the two grew up together. Arrindell replied in the affirmative, stating that Ottley’s grandmother had taken him into her home as a child, and that he and the young Ottley used to “drink cocoa tea in our jockeys.”
Meanwhile, the minister was shaking his head. “We are not related,” Ottley spit out, to which the judge replied, “But did you grow up together?” Ottley stood up: “It is admirable that Mr. Arrindell speaks so highly of my grandmother, but I am not related to him. Did I spend time with him as a child? Maybe when I was five, yes.”
However, Arrindell claimed to know the minister “very well.” And like him, he said, “many know Ottley is a woman-beater,” provoking a loud scream from the public gallery. Breaking court rules, Ottley's fiancée Shary Brunings shouted to Arrindell: “Where is the evidence? Show the proof then!” While Brunings was urged to calm down by a lady next to her, the judge called the audience to order. “No talking!”
Attorney Bommel informed the judge that Ottley had filed a police report after Arrindell publicly labelled him a criminal. “My client is entitled to his good name and honour,” the attorney said, stressing that her client does not have to accept that his reputation will be damaged by unfounded allegations. “Freedom of expression ends where it infringes on the rights of others.”
Asked by the judge whether it is true that he owns an apartment in Dubai, Ottley replied: “No, it isn’t. I don’t have an apartment in Dubai. I do not own three houses. I don’t have an account at Republic Bank.”
Arrindell, who alleged that the minister enriched himself with funds intended for the Electronic Health Authorization System (EHAS), the application that served as a travel entry requirement for St. Maarten during the COVID-19 pandemic, did not bring any witnesses nor did he provide witnesses’ statements. As for the allegation that Ottley accepted bribes from Dominican airline AraJet, Arrindell changed this to: “Francisco [LaCroes, Chef de Cabinet at TEATT Ministry – Ed.] made you take the money.”
Ottley said he does not recall receiving a “brown envelope” – to which laughter erupted among the audience, prompting the judge to demand that everyone be silent. “This is not a cinema. If you can’t be quiet, then you can all leave this courtroom."
“My client is well aware that as a public figure he has to tolerate more criticism,” said Bommel, who described Ottley as a hard-working professional who does not engage in cronyism and as a minister who does not shy away from public debate.
Arrindell stressed that he had never given information to the newspaper. “My videos are posted in my WhatsApp group. This is part of my private life. I do not know how the minister has access to the information posted in this group, how he got in there.” He claimed the government of St. Maarten is spying on its citizens, and told the judge he wants to make sure that no phone – not yours, not mine – is tapped by the government.
Arrindell denied threatening Ottley. Pointing at Ottley, he said: “Look at him, he is a professional boxer. I do not stand a chance against this tall and strong man. Besides, I do not advocate for violence, I believe in love.”
Given the last word, Ottley opened the yellow envelope he had carried with him to court and took out the mortgage for his house in Betty Estate, signed in 2018, three years before he was appointed minister. Ottley also showed the judge documents related to his second home in Valley Estate.
To prove that he did not pay for his own car or that of his fiancee in cash, as Arrindell claimed, Ottley provided a statement of monthly payments to MotorWorld for his car and a loan agreement with FirstCaribbean International Bank for her car.
“My name is my name,” Ottley said, “It is all I have got.” He then turned to Arrindell. “You will not make me the poster child for corruption.”
The judge will make a ruling on Friday, November 24.