Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs exciting the courthouse on Friday.
~ In defamation case against Arrindell ~
PHILIPSBURG--The defamation case against Olivier Arrindell, which was handled by the court on Friday afternoon, was paid for out of her own pocket, said Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, explaining that she would not use government money to clear her name.
“I am a person of integrity,” said Jacobs, who denies being in any way responsible for actions of members of her cabinet that are contrary to public interest.
When given the last word by the judge, Jacobs stood up from her chair to give a lengthy rebuttal of statements made by Arrindell in several videos that are circulating online. “I have never been involved with corruption,” she said. “I was raised with integrity.”
Jacobs said she is known for “doing the right thing at the right time,” showing respect and compassion for others and advocating for equity. “Sometimes you have to be the change you want to see in the world,” Jacobs said, indicating she is doing just that.
She then expressed fear for her life, the safety of her family and that of members of her cabinet.
While stressing that she and other politicians have the right to purchase property on St. Maarten, she said she finds it ludicrous that Arrindell would record the construction of Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Egbert Doran’s alleged “million-dollar home” and show it to the world, while questioning where the 30-year-old minister, who has an MBO-level education in ICT, would get the money to purchase prime location land and build a capital home on it.
According to the PM, Arrindell was trespassing while filming.
Jacobs told the judge that she is fearful of retaliation from people in society who are suffering financially and mentally. “You never know how persons may react to these videos,” she said, alleging that Arrindell is inciting violence.
St. Maarten has always had free and fair elections, Jacobs claimed, describing the elections as a joyful event where supporters of different political parties take to the streets together and enjoy drinks and food, gathering at barbecues in unison.
The atmosphere of tolerance for which St. Maarten is known, she said, is disrupted by Arrindell “sensationalising and victimising.” Describing Arrindell as an aggressive, hateful and angry man who is out to hurt her, Jacobs said. “While Arrindell alleges that I have been sexually abused, maybe this is true for him, maybe he experienced things in his youth that make him lash out. After all, hurt people hurt others.”
In trying to understand where Arrindell’s actions stem from, she concluded that Arrindell is a hurt man who, while erroneously claiming to be an ambassador of St. Maarten, has political aspirations and seeks to influence the upcoming elections.
“At first, I did not feel like I should respond,” the PM said about the videos that started showing up on social media a month ago, “I tried to ignore the ridiculous allegations being made, but after a while I realised silence is consent.”
Jacobs' attorney Melinda Hoeve denounced the fact that Arrindell, after receiving the summary judgment petition filed by Jacobs on October 20, “has happily continued to repeat his unsubstantiated and unlawful statements, allegations, accusations against Jacobs in countless new videos and audio recordings currently circulating.”
According to the attorney, Arrindell records an average of five videos and sound recordings every day, which he then publishes and distributes. “This shows that Arrindell does not understand the seriousness of the matter and has no intention of stopping with his unlawful allegations,” Hoeve told the judge. “In fact, Arrindell has said in several videos and audio recordings that he will not stop or apologise. He keeps calling Jacobs corrupt again and again.”
Arrindell was not present in person at court on Friday. The defendant is on business in Congo, Africa. His Facebook feed testifies to this. Arrindell’s request for a three-month postponement of the case, which was initially due on Friday, October 27, 2023, was denied by the court. At the 11th hour he hired lawyer Geert Hatzmann, who successfully negotiated a one-week postponement to prepare for the defence.
On Friday, at the start of the hearing, all parties waited for Arrindell to appear in court via video link. That did not happen. Arrindell’s lawyer reiterated that his client is required to correct three issues: 1) statements about the Prime Minister’s private life; 2) statements about sexual harassment at the Ministry of General Affairs; and 3) statements about corruption.
According to Hatzmann, Arrindell is actually only concerned with exposing corruption. “I personally think the statements about the Prime Minister’s private life are certainly not appropriate,” said Hatzmann, who asked his client about this. “Client response in one word: melee.”
Arrindell's opinion, said Hatzmann, is that a businesslike, nuanced tone has little to no effect on St. Maarten. “If you want the attention of the public, you have to make noise, start a riot,” Arrindell told his lawyer, who concluded that his client has succeeded in his aim: the prime minister has filed summary proceedings against him, and not only on St. Maarten, also on other islands, Arrindell's message attracted attention.
According to Hatzmann, the case concerns the question of whether PM Jacobs can be linked to corruption. “One manifestation of corruption is nepotism, which can be defined as the favouring of family members or friends by authorities or companies; for example, by appointing them to high positions or by awarding them contracts.”
With nepotism, the lawyer explained, “there is not by definition a criminally culpable conduct. However, there is certainly abject, immoral behaviour. Anyone with a normally developed moral compass finds it completely unacceptable that ministers give out scarce pieces of land to relatives for a low price or award multi-million contracts to the shady company of a convicted brother or cousin who has yet to serve a prison sentence. In any case, that is nepotism and therefore corruption.”
If it turns out that something like this has happened, the minister in question should tender his resignation, the lawyer concluded.
“If that minister does not do so, the leader of the government, the prime minister, must intervene and remove this minister from the government. After all, a cabinet is one and indivisible in its statements and actions: on the basis of the homogeneity principle, the words and decisions of one minister are automatically also the statements and actions of the entire cabinet, and therefore, certainly, also of the prime minister.”
In other words, Hatzmann said, “If a minister is guilty of corruption and the prime minister does not intervene, then the prime minister is also corrupting herself. By not intervening, by looking away, the prime minister gives the opportunity, the prime minister consents to the corruption, and makes herself partly guilty of it.”
In a normal, well-functioning parliamentary constitutional state, parliament would immediately send the government home if such shocking facts were revealed, Hatzmann stated. “Unfortunately, democracy on St. Maarten is rotten through and through, and corrupt cabinets are not sent home by parliament.”
The lawyer mentioned two recent scandals – the Over the Bank scandal and the scandal surrounding the awarding of contracts for solid waste collection – both of which have been widely reported in the press but have not led to any sanctions or dismissal of civil servants or ministers.
“Both issues clearly demonstrate the extent to which Ministers Ottley, Doran and Irion conspire to benefit friends and family, and perhaps ultimately themselves through frontmen, with public funds,” Hatzmann said.
“Arrindell's statements do not come out of the blue, but are based on real facts that have occurred. Only a blind person cannot see that these ministers are systematically guilty of nepotism, abuse of power, unlawful advantage, and intimidation of dissenters, and attempts to silence critics, and failure to comply with the minimum standards of good governance.”
In addition, the attorney said, “These ministers grossly neglect their duty to serve the public interest. In two well-known cases, they have even literally favoured convicted criminals with land and good deals, while ordinary St. Maarten residents who follow the rules are left behind.”
If the scandals that have emerged are a model for the ministers’ regular dealings, this may only be the proverbial tip of the iceberg, Hatzmann concluded. “These corrupt practices are all covered with the cloak of love by the Prime Minister. Doran, Ottley and Irion will continue to help friends and family members.”
According to the attorney, Doran and Ottley are a textbook example of the “care for yourself” philosophy. “They grew up together like cousins and they get along well with each other.” Publicly released documents show that Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Minister Doran gave plots of land in Vineyard Heights/Over the Bank to family and friends.
“Doran's brother has also been given land in Cul-de-Sac and the mother of his children has been given land in South Reward. For his brother’s land, Irion signed for approval,” Hatzmann recalled. “Omar Ottley's brother, Doran’s cousin, has received a multi-million dollar contract for waste management. This brother, Mhalik Ottley, still has to serve a seven-month sentence for assault together with his buddies Stevanus and Dante. The latter two were sentenced to 18 and 20 years in prison for manslaughter at the El Capitan club.”
In both issues, “Over the Bank” and the “garbage collection” scandal, the ministers mentioned actively interfered behind the scenes with the outcome favourable to their supporters, Hatzmann said. “Doran, despite his young years, has turned out to be a true mini-Macchiavelli despite his innocent looks. For example, he even intimidated and insulted the Ombudsman when her findings were not to his liking.”
The attorney cited the Ombudsman report on the awarding of the contract for the collection of solid waste 2021-2026, quoting: “The information-gathering process was frustrated by the refusal of the minister, in contravention of article 19 the national ordinance Ombudsman, to provide critical information to the investigation. … Other follow-up information and/or documentation, based on the knowledge attained from the hearings, was requested as well. The minister refused to provide the pertinent information.”
The Ombudsman concluded: “In other words, refusing to provide the Ombudsman information or concluding that the information already provided is ‘thorough and complete’, while multiple persons have confirmed the existence of the information, is unacceptable. By declining to provide information, the Minister of VROMI was therefore handling in contravention of the law, thereby effectively undermining the role of the institution, a high council of state, which has been anchored in the constitution.
“If the institution is expected to provide the legal protection due to its citizens and fulfil its constitutional role as the voice and protector of the people, the actions of the minister cannot be tolerated. Accountability requires transparency.”
Having filed criminal complaints on behalf of 40 duped clients of Carbon Acquisition Group for defrauding them and embezzling their investments, attorney Hatzmann, who knows the case in detail, pointed at the responsibility of the Jacobs-led government towards securing the safety of the current residents at Carbon Grove in Cole Bay.
While it was former National Alliance minister Christophe Emmanuel who awarded the building permit to Carbon Acquisition Group, against the advice of the Fire Department, and it was Emmanuel who waived the Hillside Policy, allowing Carbon to build close to the hilltop, Doran remains responsible for the quality of the buildings.
Both Minister Doran and Charlon Pompier, Head of Permits for four years under Doran, also acting as the minister’s right hand when it comes to infrastructure, are responsible for seeing to it that construction is done responsibly and sustainably. However, independent experts determined that the half-finished apartment complex in Cole Bay is not built to withstand harsh weather and may pose life-threatening risks.
Both Doran and Pompier are candidates for the National Alliance during the upcoming elections. However, Prime Minister Jacobs waives all responsibility when it comes to decision-making from members of the Council of Ministers and members of the political party of which she is the leader.
Attorney Hoeve stated on behalf of the Prime Minister that Jacobs attaches no importance to the documents submitted by Hatzmann – namely a final report and other documents from the Ombudsman, newspaper articles and an overview of persons to whom Minister Doran has awarded plots of land Over The bank/Vineyard Heights. “As for all productions, Jacobs does not see their relevance to this case,” Hoeve stated.
Whether Arrindell must correct his statements will become clear in three weeks. The judge will make a ruling on November 23 at 8:30am.
Jacobs did not await the court’s verdict and sent out a press release on Sunday evening, stating: “These attacks on me, several ministers, Members of Parliament, civil servants, and anyone daring to speak out against the slander, defamation, and belittling remarks – if left unchecked – will create a new culture in politics on St. Maarten. … I trust the court will be able to restore my good name with its decision.”