Erst kommt das Fressen, dann die Moral!
(Food comes first, morality afterwards)
Bertold Brecht – The Threepenny Opera
Next week, a highbrow trial starts against the former Country Council delegate Ton Hooijmaijers, who represented the Dutch province of Noord-Holland. Hooijmaijers, of the liberal-conservative government-party VVD, reputedly rendered favors and services to small and large businesses in exchange for bribe money.
Among his ‘customers’, according to the District Attorney, were the former Dutch SIFI bank Fortis Bank (currently ABN Amro), the large building company Ballast Nedam (BALNE:NA) and many other project developers and Commercial/Residential Real Estate companies. However, both Fortis and Ballast Nedam denied the allegations.
Hooijmaijers has not only been bribed, according to the district attorney, but is even said to have actively asked for bribe money in return for favors: you can get what you want, if you pay what I want. The total amount of bribe money exceeds €1.6mln.
The County Council delegate came on the retina of the district attorney after the province of Noord-Holland lost €120 mln in reserves during the Icesave drama. Hooijmaijers had all by himself taken the decision to stash the province’s money at the doomed Icelandic bank, weeks before Icesave defaulted.
Before the Icesave drama happened, Hooijmaijers had boasted to various people about his power and influence, allowing him to take this decision without further consent. Afterwards, he was forced to leave the County Council, leaving behind a number of faulty declarations and credit card expenses that could not be accounted for. All in all Hooijmaijers behaviour as delegate for Noord-Holland had been so opaque that the District Attorney started a criminal investigation 2.5 years ago.
The Dutch newspaper NRC (www.nrc.nl) wrote on this story. Here are the pertinent snips:
The former bank Fortis has bribed Ton Hooijmaijers in order to become the house banker of the province Noord-Holland. This is written in the indictment that was issued in the criminal case against the former delegate, according to the Dutch national broadcasting corporation NOS (www.nos.nl).
Hooijmaijers would receive €6000 for this favor. Besides that, he would receive commission fees on other transactions. The total amount in bribe money that has been paid to Hooijmaijers, is said to be €7000.
Fortis is one of the parties mentioned on a long list of companies and persons that would have bribed Hooijmaijers in return for favors from Noord-Holland. Also building company Ballast Nedam is mentioned on this list, just like smaller project developers and real estate companies.
Hooijmaijers, his wife and a realtor will be prosecuted for accepting bribe money, committing forgery and money laundering. This involves a total amount of almost €1.6 mln.
The delegate, at that time responsible for finance and regional planning, is accused of sending fraudulent invoices through the consultancy firm of his wife and a real estate agent. Since the investigation started 2,5 years ago, official raids have been executed at the homes of Hooijmaijers and his mother, where the consultancy firm of Hooijmaijers wife was established. Besides that, six companies have been raided. Possessions to the tune of €1.8 mln have been seized from the liberal. His trial starts on October 18.
Hooijmaijers (of course) frantically denied the accusations from the DA’s office. The Dutch business magazine Quote wrote the following snips:
Hooijmaijers informs Quote that the indictment of the DA’s office is not correct:’I am innocent. Things have been taken completely out of context and the DA’s office sums up projects and amounts that have nothing to do with me. Sadly, I can only state now that I’m innocent and want to be heard by the judge’.
Of course, everybody is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law. Therefore Ton Hooijmaijers deserves a fair trial, just like everybody else and doesn’t deserve to be judged by the public before his trial starts.
However, according to journalist Vasco van der Boon of Het Financieel Dagblad (www.fd.nl), the district-attorney seems to have an ironclad case against Hooijmaijers with an overwhelming amount of evidence. He stated this in an interview with BNR business radio (www.bnr.nl). Here is the English transcription of this Dutch interview:
“The indictment contains a bunch of misdemeanours. It is not one single accusation of bribery, but an enumeration of dozens of bribery actions, by Fortis, Ballast Nedam and a whole bunch of other project developers and real estate companies. Briberies that he reputedly even asked for himself.
It is truly mindboggling, if it is indeed true that nobody at the Province Hall noticed these events. However, notables from the Noord-Holland business society knew where to go for a favor, services, business assignments or leaks of secret, strategic information on building projects and development plans. Hooijmaijers even changed development plans himself, overriding definitively approved advices from the province’s most important civil servants
It looks strongly as if Hooijmaijers is caught with his hand in the province’s cookie jar. This case seems to be so much more than only a politically motivated accusation against an adversary.
The case reminds me strongly of the famous proverb from Bertold Brecht's Dreigroschenoper (i.e. the Threepenny opera): ‘First comes the food, afterwards the morality’.
It seems that the morality never has set in with Ton Hooijmaijers, making him a political vulture, feasting on the dearly paid tax-money from the Noord-Holland citizens. Allegedly, he betrayed his colleagues and his province and he has betrayed the people that he had to represent. When the accusations are true, it is a disgusting case of abuse of power.
However, let us not forget the people that are at the other end of the Euro: Fortis Bank, Ballast Nedam and many, many others. If these companies are indeed guilty of bribing, they should also pay dearly for these crimes. It are exactly these kinds of crimes that mean the difference between a civilized country and a banana republic.