MARIGOT:--- The Palais de Justice of St. Martin was packed to its capacity on Thursday when the trial regarding the issuance of the AOT (Authorization of Temporary Occupation) given to Sindextour began. The President of the COM Aline Hanson, Vice President Ramona Connor, and Territorial Councilor Louis Fleming were some of the elected officials that attended the trial of the century. First Vice President Guillaume Arnell dressed in a white shirt and black pants, he was surrounded by several members of his family including his mother, several sisters and his brother. A number of persons within the community that supported the RRR government during their political campaign were also in the audience to witness the trial. Also in the court room were the civil parties Elisa Cohen of Bikini Beach with some of her staff and Philippe Just of Kontiki Beach along with some of his staff. The civil parties were represented by Maitre Stephen Montravers.
While the RRR government said on several occasions that the COM had no monies when they took office on April 1st 2012, they managed to hire two top lawyers from France to represent First Vice President Guillaume Arnell and Jose Carti. The lawyer that represented Jose Carti was Maitre Thierry Herzog, the same lawyer that represented the former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy and Maitre Jean Yves Le Borgne, the Batonier of Paris. On Thursday there were five lawyers, three of which are being paid by the Collectivity for this case while Norbert Luftman had two lawyers Maitre Michel Pradines and Maitre La Cassagne. The courtroom in Marigot looked more like a movie hall with five lawyers against one that is seeking justice for two business owners who operated at Orient Beach for 20 years and seven years consecutively.
Standing before the court to answer charges of fraud and forgery were first Vice President of the Collectivity of St. Martin Guillaume Arnell, Jose Carti former head of the service Urbanism, and the owner of Sindextour Norbert Luftman.
The lawyers representing Arnell, Carti, and Luftman tried to convince the court that their clients did not commit any crimes and such the case should be thrown out based on technicalities.
Maitre Jean Yves Le Borgne tried his best to paint Prosecutor Flavien Noailles to be a dreamer, someone that he felt was young and went on a witch hunt against his clients. After the long argument presented by Maitre Le Borgne which was supported by Carti's lawyer Maitre Herzog and Luftman's lawyer Maitre Pradines, the court took a half hour recess to discuss whether or not they would consider the arguments presented by lawyers of the defense. When the trial resumed the President of the Court rejected the request of the defense and decided that they needed to proceed with the hearing by getting to the bottom of the case.
Norbert Luftman, the owner of Sindextour was the first defendant that was questioned by the President of the Court Judge Gerard Egron Rereseau. Luftman told the judge that he obtained his first AOT from the Prefet of Guadeloupe in 1994, at the time Luftman said he was paying 50,000.00 Francs for the AOT on a monthly basis for the occupation of Orient Beach. He said the commune of St. Martin issued a renewal of his AOT in 2007. He also told the court that at some point the ownership of Orient Bay was contested by the real owners which are the heirs of Ferdinand Beauperthuy. Luftman said when that happened he secured a lease from the Beauperthuy family. He said in 2010 the Collectivity of St. Martin refused to renew his request which he requested in 2008 and 2009, one of his letters was delivered to the DGS of the COM Pascal Avern on an Easter Monday which is a public holiday.
The Prosecution even said that the second letter was delivered to Avern on a Saturday morning but it turned out that the request was delivered on a Wednesday and not a Saturday. The court could not understand how Luftman or his lawyers managed to submit a request on an Easter Monday, that request had the stamp from the Collectivity and the document also had Pascal Avern's signature.
Luftman also denied having contact with anyone from the Collectivity but the prosecution and the lawyer for the civil parties showed that Luftman had email exchanges with Josi Carti and he even met with a Territorial Councilor, Jeanne Vanterpool. Luftman claimed on several occasions when he was asked to verify and to give the court details that he could not remember most of what they were asking because he did not have contact with anyone, instead most of the transactions were done by his lawyers he told the court. He said when the ownership of Orient Beach was contested he was advised by his lawyer and administrator to put the payments for the AOT in a trust account which amounted to Euros 450,000.00.
It turned out that the AOT that was issued to Luftman on April 17th 2012 by the RRR government retroactive by two years was to allow the Collectivity of St. Martin which was cash strapped to collect the monies that was in the trust account for the years Luftman did not have an AOT or lease. The head of the Financial Services told investigators that the reason the AOT was given to Sindextour was to enable the COM to get the monies Luftman had put aside for the AOT payments. It also came out during the trial that an AOT is not to be subleased but Luftman claimed that he was not subleasing instead, Bikini and Kontiki were his businesses while Cohen and Just were just managers. He told the court that problems started on Orient Beach when the manager of Kontiki Philippe Just tried to sell Kontiki. Luftman said that he could not have allowed Just to sell the business because he is the one who chooses the operators on Orient Beach. The judge asked him on at least three occasions why he believed he had exclusive rights to Orient Beach. Luftman maintained that he was the one that had an AOT and he was one that the COM would hold responsible for their payments
Jose Carti was the second defendant that was questioned by the President of the Court. While Carti is the director of the Service Urbanism he could not tell the investigators neither the court how his department functions. On several occasions the judge told him that he could not understand how he was the one in charge yet he did not know how the AOT or building permits are being processed. Carti on several occasions simply could not answer the questions that were posed to him. The judge asked Carti why he did not process the request submitted by Luftman in 2008 and 2009 when the court ruled that AW33 was domain land and part of the 50 pas geometrique.
The judge told Carti that his subordinate Ms. Glascow provided more clear answers as to how an AOT request is processed. He also read to Carti some of the statements that were given by his former boss Max Ogundele Tessi.
Carti also could not explain to the court why he did not process the request submitted by Elisa Cohen and Philippe Just. The judge showed Carti that the requests were not even booked in yet and the AOT for Luftman which was requested in March 2012 was numbered as number 3. The President of the Court told Carti he wanted to see where they registered number one and two because nowhere in the documents he had before him showed that there were two other requests in 2012 that were handled prior to Luftman. Glascow told the investigators that she only saw the requests of Just and Cohen one day after the executive council took a decision to grant the AOT to Sindextour, she also told the investigators that when she got the two requests she was not given any instructions as to what she should do or how to handle them.
First Vice President Guillaume Arnell was more clear to the court when he told the President of the Court that he did not understand why he was dragged before the criminal courts because there were administrative errors that took place way before he took office. He told the court that he took office on April 1st 2012 and he was not even present when his party was sworn in. Arnell said he was designated as the Vice President of the pole Urbanisme on April 10th 2012 and on April 16th 2012 he was presented with the AOT for Sindextour for signature. Arnell told the court that he was a General Councilor prior to April 2012 and when he took office he had no experience as to how AOTs are handled. He said that he counted on the department of Urbanism who prepared the advice. He also admitted that he did not question the AOT because he simply did not know how the process worked and he had no prior experience. He also told the court that he does not know up until today how many requests for the AOT were submitted to the department and that he did not take sides or act with prejudice against anyone. Arnell told the court that he instructed the department to send an official response to Cohen and Just in September when he was notified that the AOT granted to Sindextour was problematic and is contested.
The President of the Court stopped Maitre Montravers on several occasions when he was asking Luftman certain questions. On at least three occasions the judge told Maitre Montravers to stick to the criminal case and he should not bring in the cases that were handled in the administrative courts. The President of the Court also refused to hear the civil parties Elisa Cohen and Philippe Just. At one point the President of the Court told Luftman he did not need to answer a question posed by Maitre Montravers because he was not interested in the answer.
The trial of the AOT granted to Sindextour continues on Friday where the Prosecution and the defense will present their arguments to the court.