Supreme court approves key witness deals in assassinations trial

Scales of justice and gavel on law book
Scales of justice and gavel on law bookPhoto: tomloel/DepositPhotos

The Supreme Court approved agreements the Public Prosecutor made with two key witnesses in the so-called Passage process - a large lawsuit revolving around a total of seven assassinations committed between 1993 and 2006, reports.

All six persons involved in this trial were convicted in June 2017 on appeal. Mohamed R., Siegfried S., Dino Soerel and Jesse R. were sentenced to life in prison, Nan Paul De B. was given 13.5 years and Sjaak B. was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison. The men appealed in cassation against these penalties, but the Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to keep the penalties in place.

The Supreme Court did not again look at the content of the case, but checked whether everything - including the use of key witnesses Fred Ros and Peter la Serpe by the Public Prosecutor - was done legally and correctly. Ros and La Serpe signed deals with the judiciary in which they testified in exchange for lower sentences.

According to the lawyers representing Soerel and Jesse R., the Prosecutor had gone too far with regards to these deals and made unjustifiable commitments to the key witnesses. Both La Serpe and Ross were allowed to keep their criminally earned money, and they received large amounts of money to provide for their security. The lawyers called this disguised rewards and therefore unlawful.

But the Supreme Court ruled that the agreements on the reduction of sentences were legally permissible. The Public Prosecutor is also allowed to reach a settlement with crown witnesses that does not need to be reviewed by the court. "The Court of Appeal ruled that the statements made by the key witnesses are reliable and can be used as evidence", the Supreme Court said. "The Supreme Court upholds that judgment."

The lawyers also appealed in cassation against the life sentences imposed on Soerel and R. According to the lawyers, this punishment is contrary to the prohibition of inhumane treatment or punishment, as defined in Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). It is inhumane to lock people up with no prospect of release, the lawyers argued.

The Supreme Court disagreed with this too. According to the court, the current legal system stipulates that prisoners serving a life sentence are eligible for a reassessment after they have been imprisoned for 27 years. 

This ruling by the Supreme Court is also a setback for Willem Holleeder. Ros and La Serpe are also key witnesses in the case against Holleeder, and Holleeder's lawyers are also fighting their agreement with the Public Prosecutor. The court in Amsterdam will rule independently in the Holleeder case, but the decision of higher legal bodies will certainly have an influencing role. With this ruling, the Supreme Court stated that it does not doubt Ros and La Serpe's reliability as key witnesses.