Dutch MP’s Campaign to Free Dutchman Jailed for 103 Years in Thailand
BANGKOK – Dutch MPs are urging ministers to ensure Dutch National Johan Van Laarhoven who was sentenced to 103 years in Thailand for drugs offences is brought back to the Netherlands.
Johan van Laarhoven, who ran several cannabis cafes, or coffee shops, in Tilburg and Den Bosch has lived in Thailand since 2008. He was jailed for laundering money made from the coffee shops which were licenced in the Netherlands.
Thai justice officials reportedly started investigating Van Laarhoven following letter from a Dutch embassy worker, informing the authorities he had earned his money selling marijuana and requesting a criminal investigation.
Although these activities had taken place in the Netherlands and the Dutch authorities had turned a blind eye to them, he was arrested and then sentenced at the end of last year. His wife was jailed for 13 years.
In 2011, Van Laarhoven sold the Grass Company—his chain of four coffee shops in the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant. At the time of the sale, Van Laarhoven was already living in the Thai city of Pattaya with his wife Tukta and their two young children.
Not long after that, the Dutch prosecutor’s office (Openbaar Ministerie) launched an investigation into the Grass Company for money laundering. During years of investigation, no evidence was found that could convict Van Laarhoven or his business partners in the Netherlands.
Van Laarhoven and the Openbaar Ministerie agreed that if they ever again wanted to interrogate him about the case, he would report to the Netherlands within five days of their request.
After a request from a Dutch lawyer working for Openbaar Ministerie, the Thai authorities launched their own investigation into Van Laarhoven. Several days later he and his wife were arrested at their Pattaya home.
Fifteen months later, Van Laarhoven was convicted for spending money in Thailand that he earned by selling cannabis in the Netherlands. It should be noted that the sale of cannabis in coffee shops is legal in the Netherlands and the Dutch “gedoogbeleid” policy ensures that authorities turn a blind eye when coffee shop owners buy stock from illegal dealers.
The Thai court’s verdict, however, ignores that policy, concluding that money earned with the sale of drugs has to be illegal money. Therefore, spending that money is a crime. His assets in Thailand were siezed and his home and vehicles were auctioned off.
Now MPs from six parties are campaigning for his release. Dutch MP Vera Bergkamp says she wants to know in particular what the role of the embassy worker was in calling for an investigation.
‘That is extremely unusual and serious considering he could have been sentenced to death,’ Bergkamp said. ‘I want to know if the Dutch authorities threw Van Laarhoven to the lions.’
A foreign ministry spokesman told the NRC in January that officials had not asked for Van Laarhoven to be arrested and were only after information.
Corruption and the Police in Thailand
Corruption is institutionalized in the police force in the form of extra-budgetary payments to police officer’s welfare funds, holiday banquets, office renovations, bribe-taking, and extortion. Police are poorly paid. A patronage system, in which beat police, funnel money to their superiors is institutionalized.
According to a Bangkok Post editorial: The National Police Office’s fundamental problems are “widespread nepotism, corruption, lax law enforcement and disrespect for the rule of law. Nepotsim is particularly deeply entrenched. It is a known fact that capability, resourcefulness and seniority—the standard yardsicks for promotion in a government bureaucracy—are not enough to be promoted without the right connections or enough money to kick up to their superiors. There is a great deal of truth to the rumor that the post of chief inspector at a “good” police station costs about 500,000 baht.
Another root cause of corruption is relatively unknown to the public is the unspoken tradition that police officers are not supposed to be seen riding city buses. It has become accepted practice that once they enlist in the force they must acquire a car, despite their humble pay.
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