Sylvester in hot water
April 22, 2005

Sylvester in hot water

Vincentian barrister and recently appointed Commissioner of the Caribbean Court of Justice CCJ, Othniel Sylvester Q.C, has found himself in some sweltering waters.

The local barrister was the centre of media attention throughout the region during the week after claims that he allegedly swindled close to $12 million from a Danish foundation.{{more}}

Sylvester, a former President of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Bar Association and who was appointed in July 2003 as a member of the Regional Judicial and Legal Service Commission (RJLSC), the body charged with selecting judges for the Court, will know his fate when the adjourned matter comes to hearing.

Sylvester had made a bid to block the lawsuit, claiming abuse of process. He lost the first round in his bid but appealed the hearing, which came up Tuesday in the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in St Lucia. The matter has been postponed to a later date.

Apart from the civil lawsuit which seeks to recover EC$5,212,500, monies reportedly expended for the purchase of a parcel of land, the Danish foundation, through prominent Caribbean lawyer Karl Hudson-Phillips, also filed court action seeking to discipline the former temporary High Court judge.

The now controversial issue was the topic of discussion among top lawyers and members of the local judiciary during the week, which noted that Sylvester was one of the persons charged with appointing judges to the CCJ and there was a possibility that the legal matter involving him could end up before that very court.

Questioned on the issue by regional press at the inauguration of the CCJ at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s Trinidad on Saturday, President of the Caribbean Court of Justice Michael de la Bastide said he had no comment to make since he was unaware of the lawsuit.

The CCJ head did indicate his intentions to launch an investigation into the claims brought forward.

Asked whether the existence of the lawsuit should not have been aired before Sylvester was appointed a member of the RJLSC, de la Bastide responded, “This is the first I am hearing about it”, but he assured that an investigation would be carried out once the matter came to his attention.

Sylvester, who shirked questions relating to the lawsuit, while present at the CCJ launching over the weekend said, he “just can’t comment” once there is pending litigation.

According to details of the pending court action-which was filed in February 2004, the Danish private commercial foundation, Faellesje, claims that in July 1984 it entered into an agreement with Sylvester, who then acted as their solicitor, to purchase a group of estates here in St Vincent, comprising of approximately 3,300 acres and known as the Orange Hill Estates.

Two months after the purchase of the estate, the Government compulsorily acquired the land because of a hue and cry from the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines and, in November 1991, awarded EC$4.7 million, which carried interest of five per cent per annum.

The Danish foundation says it received some money but has sued Sylvester for what it describes as the remainder of $12 million.