Dear Editor, I kindly request that you allow me some space in your publication to express my thoughts about the recent article that have been written about me in the media. I am hopeful that you will consider giving this story the same kind of exposure as you did to the story printed about me on Thursday October 6, 2016.
I would like to start by thanking everyone in the local media for the countless times over the past two decades that they have highlighted my many accomplishments, awards, and services within the community. I have taken great pride in being a leader on the local culinary scene and have thoroughly enjoyed playing a role in helping St. Maarten to build the reputation of being recognized as the gastronomic capital of the Caribbean.
This being said, the recent article about my tax situation begs me to question if the leading news sources on this island are truly practicing newsworthy journalism or are they simply becoming avenues for tabloid and gossip stories? One of the fundamental principals of truthful journalism is that there are always two sides to every story, in recent days I have read articles about me in several different news publications, which make strong accusations about my business practices, but sadly not one reporter has contacted me for a comment before printing these stories. It seems like our media is a little too eager to write slanderous stories about any well-known person on the island. I am no stranger to the local media, why has no one reached out to me for a comment?
Why has the local media been so quick to try and tear down my reputation without even asking to hear my side of the story? Does every business person who has a tax issue have his or her name and picture printed along with a lengthy (one sided) story? If I were not well known in the community, would this still be a front-page story? If in fact this is a newsworthy story it could have been printed with just my initials and certainly there was no need for a large picture of me on the front page (as was printed by the Today paper), but then again, perhaps my name and image is what makes this story interesting? If you are writing a gossip column then this is fair game.
The headlines that were written are clearly worded in a way to sound like a “new piece of melle”. I have good relationships in the media with many journalists for many years, several of whom I still consider personal friends, why would no one contact me for a statement before printing such a negative headline about me?
Since my personal business is out in the open now, I think its important for me to offer a statement to explain things from my side:
About 10 years ago I opened a restaurant in Cupecoy called Rare with the intention of building this business into an international brand that would one day be a franchise with multiple locations in various countries. I took advice from accountants and attorneys as to how I should structure the legal set up. As a formally trained and celebrated chef with many awards, I worked hard to create recipes, a unique design, and standards of operations that would have been used for new locations in collaboration with other professionals. Some of you might remember, around this time, the global economy changed drastically. The opportunities I was exploring in cities like Miami and New York now came with far more risk. The plans to go international were put on hold, Rare St. Maarten experienced some success for a few years, but we were still barely breaking even, whatever we made in the high season covered our losses in the off season.
About 4 years after I opened Rare, I also invested into a coffee franchise (Rituals) and opened 2 locations in Philipsburg. After a trial period of almost 1 year, we were struggling to turn a profit with Rituals. I was spreading myself to thin, so I decided to close Rituals. When it was all said and done, between my start up costs and costs of shutting down, I lost a fair amount of money. As per the advice of my accountant at the time, my losses from Rituals were absorbed by Rare.
I would also like to clarify; my brother Arun never had anything to do with the business set up or any of the business dealings of Rare. There were plans to get him involved from a marketing and branding side, when Rare was ready to open locations outside of St. Maarten, but sadly that day never came.
After years of trying, Rare never became what I originally dreamed it could be, so I decided to close the business and refocus all my energy to my flagship restaurant Temptation. Since Rare did not grow the way it was designed to, the legal structure which originally was set up was inappropriate and resulted with me having an obligation to pay more taxes. It grew to be costly learning experience, but one that I am glad will soon be behind me.
For almost a year now I have been trying to negotiate a settlement with the Fiscal Affairs Office, but we were unable to mutually agree on a figure and were even denied a reasonable monthly payment plan, which led to the recent court case to determine whether the legal construction I had chosen to use, could qualify as tax-fraud. To the letter of the law, I have been “convicted,” but in fact I am a hard working local businessman who made a mistake, and am prepared to pay for this.
I am deeply offended by recent statements which suggested I have avoided paying taxes for many years, and that my actions has cost country St. Maarten a lot of money. Because I am well known in the community, and my restaurant is constantly in the spotlight, I cannot hide under the radar and therefore my tax compliance is significantly higher than many others on the island. There are plenty of businesses with significantly less or even zero compliance.
At the end of the day, I took advice from professionals who are fiscal law specialists. I am a chef, I could never know the details of the tax code, therefore I rely on advices that have been given to me from the experts I hire. The structure which was set up was fundamentally legal, but every construction has to be played by certain rules to avoid problems with the tax inspectorate. I find it a pity that Fiscal Affairs Office was not willing to offer a reasonable monthly plan to settle the fine I was facing, insisting that this payment had to be made in full within a time frame of several weeks.
To use a soccer analogy, I feel I have been given a red card on my first violation, which should have been a yellow card, especially considering that many players on the field are commonly getting away with many violations.
I am not blaming anyone for what has taken place, I am an adult, and I must own my decisions. Yes, I tried to find a legal way to lower my tax burden, but I have always paid taxes! I challenge the media to find anyone from the business community who does not try to minimize his or her tax burden. I accept responsibility for the way I have run my business.
Now that my name and reputation will be linked to conversations about taxes within the community (for the next few days at least), I hope some good can come out of all of this.
THE REAL STORY HERE SHOULD BE, it’s long overdue for country St. Maarten to simplify and reform our tax code. Hopefully we will have a stable government in place that will finally make this a priority, because the current tax code is not motivating to the business community, and I know the leaders of this country are aware of this.
My story hopefully serves to highlight how challenging the current tax system makes it for local businesses to turn a profit, even if you are qualified and armed with a very good business plan, the odds are stacked against you. In my case 2 out of 3 businesses failed, but fortunately Temptation is still running strong. This year we closed for an entire month for the first time in 14 years. I needed sometime to step away and refocus my energy to my passion of cooking. As stated I’m glad to finally put this matter behind me and get back to doing what I do best! This story hit the media the day before Temptation was scheduled to reopen… thanks again to all my friends in the media for the free press! Don’t forget to book your office Christmas party!!! Even the tax office is welcome for dinner by us.
Finally I would like to encourage the local media to focus on real journalism and stop being so quick to try and ruin the reputations of hard working St. Maartners. The media’s role and obligation to society is far more important then this!
Thank you for allowing me to express my thoughts on this matter.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
My Response To Above letter By Dino Jagtiani
- Stop thinking that the people in the media who featured and praised you countless times during the past few years were actually going to support you when you took a fall. We live in a culture that props you up knowing that the higher you are, the harder you fall.
- Dino, my dear you must have pissed off someone very powerful in order for them to drag you like that, after all former Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson, passed his screening and was appointed, and then re-appointed Minister of JUSTICE, OWING taxes, and having liens. Your only question should be ‘Who the hell did I piss off to the point that they would treat me worse than million dollar tax dodger Silvio – while the former Minister of Justice was appointed having done much worse?’
- Evidently, the Today Paper was the one who did the hatchet job on you, and it clearly was a hit. The Today Paper’s editors only do hits if they have a personal vendetta against you, or if they are paid one way or the other, whether it be monetarily, under the table favors or otherwise.
- The current Minister of Justice, Richard Gibson is the owner of the Today Paper, and he should be in jail for that clear conflict of interest alone. Of the laundry list of scandalous activities done by the Minister of Justice Gibson, the only people to publicly cover his misdeeds have been The Daily Herald, and myself. And both I, and the Daily Herald covered every delicious tidbit of Gibson’s malicious deeds for the same reason… PAYBACK. The Today is not a legitimate newspaper. It does not even pretend to be. I screen captured the editor Hilbert Haar’s profile on one of the online media platforms he used to post to. In Hilbert’s profile he described himself as “a muckraker for a local paper.
- The person who dragged you across his front page would be Mr Hilbert Haar. Now I can discuss Hilbert Haar based on his own actions and words, and there is a pattern. Mr Hilbert Haar does not make his money as the editor of the Today Paper, he tries to make his money at the Poker tables. Therefore he is constantly in debt, and that is why Hilbert a man who has been the editor The Today Paper Sxm for years, takes the BUS to work, if he makes it to work at all. There are days when there is simply no newspaper. It’s not a holiday, there was no notice, he simply couldn’t make it away from the casino tables on time. Usually you will find him just bumming rides trying to get to and from the Courthouse, where he curry favors with the judges and lawyers, just so that he can appear to be ‘somebody’.
- Don’t feel singled out Dino, my dear – you are several of many that the Today Paper has taken a personal vendetta against. They’ve done it to me, I call it the “VIP” treatment, the only difference between you, I and the other victims, is that I created my own online news site to teach Hilbert and Richard Gibson the true art of dragging someone online, zero remorse.
- I am not a reporter, I write my opinions and evidently many others identify with if not me, my blogs and experiences. They might not like me, my blogging or my style, but those millions of blog views came from somewhere. As Site Administrator, my clicks NEVER count. You noted that not one reporter even tried to contact you, to get your side of the story. I did contact you on Facebook, and that was strictly by chance. I told you not to take it personally, and to keep your head up, but I also told you that I am a blogger not a reporter.
- I was the first to publish the article about your legal troubles, but it was nothing personal. I did not embellish or feel the need to add to the story, which was provided I believe by the Openbaar Ministerie or Public Prosecutor’s Office. I posted the story, like I post any other MSM story. Like I posted about my arrest, several times on baseless claims, with not one charge or conviction, not even a misdemeanor.
- Having said that, the Prosecutor’s Office cherry picks what information they’re going to release, how they are going to phrase it, and to whom they will release the information when it’s time for the ‘hit’. They don’t tag me or send me anything, I simply take it. This just brings me back to my original point, that you pissed someone off, and they did a ‘hit’ on you.
- I post without prejudice, the same way they posted my photos and arrest worldwide, so you cannot call me unfair and biased.
- Don’t play ‘victim’, and continuing to cry over what happened won’t change a thing. They want to see you bowed. Keep your head up, and keep on moving. If you wake up in the morning after being through hell, then you wake up a little bit stronger.
- When you are soaring, and everyone is praising you, you have a million friends. When you are down and out, you would be luck to find one person who continues to stand by you. The fact that one person felt strongly enough about your treatment by the Today Paper that she actually posted publicly about it on Facebook, and then so many responded, and came to your defense, including strangers, and people like me, who don’t even know you, never really heard about you until your criminal case should tell you that you are in a better position than most.
- If you are a fantastic chef and cook, let your food and customers do the talking for you. Yes, you feel the need to justify to strangers who may judge you and emphasize your skills as an entrepreneur, but if you are that great at your job, for so many years, you have nothing left to prove to anyone, except maybe yourself and your loved ones.
- Part of the problem in your letter is that you continue to use the word ‘trustworthy’, ‘journalism’, ‘reporter’, ‘newspaper’ etc etc etc… First of all finding professionalism in anything in St Maarten, can prove to be quite difficult. Also, name ONE journalist in any of these media houses who have actually gone to a real University, and gotten their Masters, Bachelors or Doctorate in journalism. Anybody with the intelligence to attain any of those degrees would never work in St Maarten, because then they would be smart enough that to realize that in St Maarten intelligence and knowledge is considered to be a defect not an asset. You are expected to LOWER your standards at any profession in St Maarten if you want to fit in, and/or keep your job. Everyone has bills to pay, so the majority simply give up, give in and lower their standard.
- Yes, you are a man of color, but that is not the reason why you were dragged the way you were. They drag minorities all the time, and no one says a word. It’s almost expected. Also even if you were Caucasian, it wouldn’t matter. If it’s a hit job, then they don’t care what color you are, so I don’t think it was racism.
- Because I stood up against the Indian Stores being opened during the funeral of Officer Gamali Benjamin, and I had a few choice words…. or profanity for the establishments and owners that chose to remain open, but should have been closed out of respect for the officer who protected them. People who shut down when one of their own is killed, but not when a local officer is killed in the line of duty, PROTECTING them – people want to mislabel me as being racist or xenophobic. Opinions are only relevant if they are true or factual. I got into it with that Jamaican weave queen on Frontstreet too and the Chinese who were open. Everyone who was opened was video-shamed, so it was not a race issue, it was a ‘respect for Benji’ issue, and I will NEVER apologize for my actions or words.
- Some also think that I’m anti Indian because I had a few choice words for Siddhart ‘Cookie’ Biljani. I always got along with Cookie respectfully, until Officer Benjamins funeral. When I stood up for the locals, Cookie tried to shut down my Facebook censor me in MY own country. That is my reason for disliking Cookie. Not because he’s an Indian, but because he is a ‘C’ word who acted like locals lives don’t matter…. I have chosen to keep this blog as respectful as possible and profanity free……. It is possible.
- Having read your letter, I understand where you feel the need to clear your name, but in my opinion, and it’s strictly my opinion, it might work for therapeutic reasons, but no letter is going to change the fact that some people like you, and others don’t. Evidently some loathe you, or else you would not have been prosecuted and dragged through the mud like your were by The Today Sxm paper.
- You did do something wrong, and admitted to as much, and you were punished. More than some, less than others. It must bother you now, but living in ‘defense mode’,after the fact, changes nothing. Many have certainly gotten away with worse, some are getting away with it right now. You cannot dwell on that. Easier said than done, I know – but you just have to believe that at a certain point everyone will get theirs.
- The Island Receivers or “The Taxman” Mr Theolindo Nadal loves to brag and boast about all of the dirt that he has on everyone, especially those in high positions. When I posted HIS dirt, within hours there was a tax statement in my gate. Did I back down? No! The island receivers are almost as crooked as the Prosecutors and judges. Are all of them bad? No! But the most malicious ones, who use their job titles as a weapon to go after those that they dislike, those they fear, and those that they want to make an example of, tend to be the bosses, the chiefs, and the supervisors.
- The Island Receivers do hit jobs as favors also, just like the police, prosecutors, judges – anyone with a modicum of power or a title. So if you realize that the system is crooked, unjust and that you have to ‘pay to play’, then the confusion that this is causing you should fade away soon enough.
- In order for them to do what they did, it took a SYSTEM, a very vile and corrupt system, to throw you under the bus, then try to drag you after. As stated, if you are still standing, then you are stronger, let this be a lesson. Life does not necessarily get easier with time, in fact it’s usually the other way around.
- You are luckier than most, because although there does appear to have been some type of vendetta against you, this incident showed you just how many people genuinely like you and have your back, no matter what. So this should be considered ‘a pebble in your shoe’. A minor irritant that slowed you down a bit. You kick it out, and move on.
- After age 30 life should not be about regrets, it should be about lessons. This is a lesson, learn from it, or you might have to repeat the class.
- I blog and post uncensored and many people don’t like my lack of filter when it comes to expressing myself. Let’s be honest… They loathe, detest, despise and abhor me and some have wished me dead, others have tried to make it happen. You might have noticed, that their opinions and lies about me remain irrelevant as long as I have the truth on my side. Profanity is not the reason they dislike me, the truth and veracity is what causes their loathing. If you don’t make your haters your motivators, you will not make it.
- Look at the bright side Dino, NEVER have you EVER had this much advertisement as a Chef and Cook. You didn’t strangle, murder, rob anyone or caused physical harm. A ‘white color’ crime is still a crime. Pay your fine, don’t whine (That’s what they want) and get back to your life.
- It is horrible to have your name dragged through the mud, especially when you feel that it was unjustly done, but since when has life ever been ‘fair’? When the editor who dragged you Hilbert Haar was locked up for a far greater crime than you (assault and battery of a female) it appears that he got less punishment than you, and he certainly was not featured on the frontpage, backpage or even in a 3 inch column in The Today Sxm newspaper, but the court of public opinion is a powerful force. I spend a lot more time reading and observing than I do writing. When he was locked up people celebrated. I have a massive social media following online. Thousands of American, Canadian, European visitors who knew and had met you expressed shock. So whether you know it or not, many felt that you had done something wrong, but not enough to stop liking or supporting you, some felt that you were singled out.
- Maybe this should be the last time that you discuss to the media ‘your side of the story’. Trying to change people’s opinion of you, can be a ‘lesson in futility’.
- Be a survivor, not a victim. All humans err. You messed up, you had to pay. It appears that your pride was hurt more than your wallet. Believe it or not, most people think more highly of you knowing that you’ve done/are doing your punishment, as opposed to someone like Silvio Matser, who appears to have gotten away with his crime, no remorse-instead reward. The resentment towards people like Silvio is there, whether it’s overt or internalized.
- Now get back into your kitchen, and quit explaining. Eveything for a reason.