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Legal battle continues over Tamarind Hotel

Management company petitions court again tomorrow

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – The Tamarind Hotel in Pointe Blanche is going through rough times. The flamboyant tree in front of the reception is in a glorious condition and the gardens are near impeccable, but under the surface bubbles an ugly legal battle that is challenging manager Paul Ingram’s patience and that has befuddled some of the hotel guests. Tomorrow, attorneys for Ingrams’ management company Zeilvis Ltd. will file a petition to the court to straighten things out and to demand that it will be allowed to pay off in full the mortgage on the real estate it bought.

Zeilvis took over the management of the Tamarind Hotel in March 2011 from S&O Investments NV, a company controlled by Yvette Marcela Smit, who owns sixteen condo’s at Tamarind lives in one of the units. In the take-over deal, Zeilvis bought the office, the deli, the swimming pool and the land in stands on, outright under a mortgage granted by S&O for $160,000.

Trouble started already last year when Smit obtained a court ruling that gave her $50,000 that according to Ingram belongs to the unit-owners and only in part to Smit.

Things did not get any better after Zeilvis informed S&O that it wanted to pay off the mortgage in one go in January of this year. But S&O responded that it refuses to accept this deal and to transfer the real estate to Zeilvis, stating that it had dissolved the 2011-agreement per October 2, 2012.

The catch with the mortgage on the real estate is that it had to come with a life insurance coverage benefitting S&O. Ingram said that there is a life insurance but that its beneficiary is Yvette Smit. “And she owns S&O,” he said, wondering what the difference is.

The court had a different opinion. It ruled that “without further investigation of the facts” it cannot be established that the position of S&O that the agreement has been terminated is without merit. In a ruling dated April 5, the court therefore rejected Zeilvis’ demand that S&O has to deliver the real estate against a payment of close to $136,000.

At the same time, the court ruled against S&O’s demand that Zeilvis vacate the property within thirty days. Because parties disagree about the execution of their agreement, the court ruled that the demand to vacate the property cannot be handled in summary proceedings.

Paul Ingram says that he has in the meantime spent $15,000 on attorneys and that he had not expected to run into all this trouble when he took over the hotel’s management. We spent a lot of time and energy on the hotel. When I came here it was the least-valued of the thirteen hotels in St. Maarten. Last year we were voted number one, and now, due to the troubles we have gone through, we are the number two hotel.”

Ingram must feel like a fish out of water in St. Maarten by now. In his early seventies, the hotel manager has plastered the walls of his cozy office with memories of times gone by. In 1973 he established the first professional soccer team in the United States – the Connecticut Wildcats. In those years he rubbed shoulders with Lamar Hunt, son of oil tycoon Haraldson Lafayette Hunt Jr. and the founder of the American Football League – and he has the pictures to prove it. Ingram is also the brother-in-law of former Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos who is married to his sister Shanna. Papademos led the government of national unity in Greece from 2012 to 2012 in the wake of the country’s financial crisis. Before that, he was the vice president of the European Central Bank and governor of the Bank of Greece.

Those family ties are not much help for the troubles Ingram is now experiencing in St. Maarten.

In October of last year he returned the keys of the sixteen apartments Smit owns to her and he withdrew from managing these units. That led to sometimes embarrassing situations.

When guests staying at Smit’s units wanted to return their keys to the reception upon their departure, Ingram had to tell them he could not accept them and that they had to hand them over to Smit. Once guests that had rented a condo from Smit had to wait more than three hours before Smit arrived with the keys. The guests had little understanding for the situation, Ingram says: “They slammed their hands on the counter and told me: what kind of hotel is this?”

Ingram says that it is all a matter of money. The investments he has made over the past couple of years have increased the value of the units dramatically. “Smit’s units have gone up a million in value,” he says. “That’s why she wants everything back.”

The new lawsuit indicates that Ingram is not going to take things lying down. “I am a fighter,” he says. “I will never give up.”

As has become his habit, Ingram has informed all owners at Tamarind via email about the latest developments. It ends with this line: “After more than 45 years in the real estate business, I can truly tell you that I never have met a person like Yvette Smit.”

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