Article from the Daily Herald of SXM
ORIENT BAY–The original Bikini Beach and Kon Tiki restaurants on Orient Beach were closed down Tuesday, as Préfet Philippe Chopin ordered Gendarmes and bailiffs to carry out the eviction of principle tenants, Elisa Cohen from Bikini and Philippe Just from Kon Tiki, along with concession holders and the now unemployed staff, from both restaurants.
The eviction order, enacted one day later than scheduled, passed off quietly at both restaurants with Gendarmes standing by. Entrances were sealed off with tape. The restaurants apparently have one month to remove all their materials and concession holders were seen clearing out boutiques, dismantling fittings and loading boxes into cars.
The eviction was not unexpected and is the latest development in the long-running legal battle both restaurants have been fighting against the company Sindextour and Norbert Luftman, developer of the “5 Stars” restaurants, Kon Tiki, Kakao, Waikiki, Bikini and Coco.
Given that there are related court cases pending – most notably the criminal trial set for September 19, in which Luftman, former Director of Service Urbanisme José Carti and First Vice President Guillaume Arnell are charged with fraud and complicity in issuing the temporary use permit Autorisation d’Occupation Temporaire (AOT) to Luftman – the eviction coming so soon without the plaintiffs having their day in court was surprising, especially considering a last ditch appeal to overturn the eviction was due to be heard on September 11.
The other cases relate to contesting the April 17, 2012, Executive Council decision to grant the AOT; the mentioned criminal trial is on September 19, and the Préfet’s request for the AOT to be annulled is still to be heard. Another case in October will address reimbursement of rent money to Bikini and Kon Tiki during the years Sindextour allegedly did not have a valid AOT.
In the most recent twist to the saga, Préfet Philippe Chopin deemed it was illegal to issue the renewed AOT to Sindextour retroactively, to include the previous years since expiry in 2008, and he has taken the Collectivité to court on this aspect.
“As we are personally asking for damages, the fact that there is a criminal trial pending to do with fraud and complicity, and that we, the injured parties, should be evicted by the person who has done us bad without having our day in court is not morally right,” said an emotional Elisa Cohen.
“I’m sure pressure from certain parties was put on certain people. At least we should have been protected until the end of the procedures, particularly the correctional procedures. Even the Préfet believes there have been misdemeanours with the issuing of the AOT.”
At least 15 low season employees from Bikini and another eight from Kon Tiki will be unemployed and dependent on the French social security system. Bikini employed up to 28 staff in high season, all declared.
“It’s up to them now to claim their rights and be taken care of by the French system,” Cohen added.
The pending court cases are related to Bikini and Kon Tiki’s situation, but are running independently of each other. In this instance the Préfet has taken action as the two restaurants’ rental agreements had expired on December 30, 2012, and the tenants had been occupying the premises illegally, even though legal proceedings between both parties had begun earlier and they had long since stopped paying rent.
Sindextour successfully submitted a request to the administrative court at the beginning of 2013, to have the tenants evicted. Eviction papers were subsequently delivered on April 5, giving Cohen and Just two months to vacate the premises. That did not happen. The eviction was postponed to June 15 and finally to September 2.
Cohen said the restaurants had discovered Luftman’s AOT last year under a company name that had expired in 2009, meaning that between 2009 and 2011 there were no legal documents, but the restaurants were still paying rent to him all this time.
“Contracts said he was sub-letting his licence to us, but under French law you can’t sub-let your AOT as you must operate the AOT you obtained yourself,” she argued at the time. “His company never exploited these properties … no employees, no customers, etc. The format of the lease was bogus.”
“We decided at one point that he didn’t have the right to keep taking rent from us. It’s like one day someone tells you that the owner of the house you are renting for all these years is not the real owner.”
Sindextour through its representative countered that it had submitted an AOT renewal on time in 2009, but the Collectivité had not answered due to an ongoing court case with the Beauperthuy family about ownership of the parcel.
The two restaurants decided to apply for the AOTs in their own names on February 20, 2012, to pay rent to the Collectivité instead and thus have full rights. Sindextour also re-submitted its AOT renewal application to the Collectivité, which was granted to the company in September, much to the chagrin of Cohen and Just, who claimed their own applications had simply been “ignored.”
The pair subsequently asked for an emergency meeting in the tribunal to say their rights and livelihoods had been infringed upon and to contest the authenticity and legality of the AOT issued to Sindextour.
Sindextour was originally given an AOT by the Commune in 1992 for the parcel AW33 which saw the building of Kon Tiki, Kakao and Bikini, a shrewd business decision that opened up Orient Beach to mass tourism.