Dutch state culpable in coffeeshop owner's Thai arrest, conviction: Ombudsman

The Dutch State acted carelessly in the investigation into Johan van Laarhoven and his wife. This negligence led to the arrest of the Dutch couple in Thailand in 2014, as well as they years' long prison sentences they received in the country, the National Ombudsman said in a report on Monday, NU.nl reports.

Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen started an investigation into Van Laarhoven's case in 2016 after the man and his wife filed a complaint with him about the actions of the Dutch Public Prosecutor, the police, and the Ministry of Justice and Security. The Ombudsman now declared that complaint well founded. 

Until 2011, Van Laarhoven was the co-owner of coffeeshop The Gras Company, which had four coffeeshops in Tilburg and Den Bosch. The Dutch Public Prosecutor suspects that these shops had too large stocks of soft drugs. The Prosecutor also suspects Van Laarhoven of money laundering and membership of a criminal organization. 

In 2014 the Public Prosecutor submitted a request for legal assistance to the Thai authorities, asking them to conduct an investigation to support the case against Van Laarhoven in the Netherlands. The desired action from Thailand was not forthcoming, so a letter was sent to the Thai authorities in which the consideration was raised for the Thai authorities to start their own criminal investigation into Van Laarhoven. 

The Ombudsman describes this as "careless". Van Laarhoven's wife was labeled as a suspect in Thailand, while there was no investigation into her in the Netherlands. "With serious foreseeable consequences." The Prosecutor's defense that they could not have foreseen that Van Laarhoven and his wife would be arrested in Thailand, the Ombudsman calls "unbelievable". 

"The Dutch authorities did not prepare their actions well and lost sight of the perspective of Van Laarhoven and his wife", the Ombudsman said. According to Van Zutphen, there was no realistic consideration of whether the used action was careful, effective and proportionate. "This while the Public Prosecutor was well aware of the risks that a drug-related criminal investigation in Thailand entails."

In June 2016 Van Laarhoven was sentenced to 75 years in prison, of which he must effectively serve 20 years, for laundering money he earned with the sale of soft drugs in the Netherlands. His wife was sentenced to an effective prison sentence of seven years and four months.

Spong Advocaten and Blenheim Advocaten, the Amsterdam law firms representing Van Laarhoven and his wife, are pleased with the Ombudsman's conclusions. "The National Ombudsman confirms unequivocally what we have been saying for years: a Dutch businessman and his wife were swindled into a Thai cell with a ruse and deceit by the Netherlands", lawyer Gerard Spong said, according to NU.nl. 

D66 parliamentarian Vera Bergkamp called the Netherlands' actions "disconcerting and asking for action". The D66 called for a debate with Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security. The party calls on the Minister "in the light of these conclusions to do everything possible to get Van Laarhoven and his wife to the Netherlands". 

The Dutch criminal investigation into Van Laarhoven and dozens of other suspects is still ongoing