Jorritsma hits out at fraud allegation

17th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

Allegations of links to fraud in the construction industry have struck her out of the blue, but former economics affairs minister and deputy prime minister Annemarie Jorritsma has come out of her corner fighting. Cormac Mac Ruairi reports.

Annemarie Jorritsma had to be a tough fighter to rise as high as she did in the male-dominated corridors of political power in The Hague during the 1990s.

Annemarie Jorritsma

With her trademark taste for unusual hats rivalled only by Queen Beatrix, Jorritsma has proved herself again and again to be more than an equal for her male counterparts.

And unlike many other career politicians, the Liberal VVD luminary from the north of the country has a sense of humour and actually remembers to smile on camera occasionally.

Having recently been installed as the Almere Mayor, reports that the authorities are investigating the possibility that a company in which she holds a small stake was involved in possible illegal price-fixing for a building project must have been very unwelcome news.

But this lady is not one to turn or run away. Confronted by questions from reporters on Monday 16 February, Jorritsma resorted to the vernacular and described the allegations against her as "complete bullshit".

"It is scandalous (that these allegations) have somehow been reported just like that. I have never had anything to do with Boele (& van Eesteren) in my entire life," she fumed.

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Sounds convincing and of all the personalities who have ridden on the political treadmill in The Hague, Jorritsma is not the first candidate to have been accused of dodgy dealings.

There are, however, some issues that will require more than tough words to resolve. She will have to come up with some facts.

The most glaring issue is simply this: If she never had any dealing with construction company Boele, why do secret, handwritten accounts say she did.

The public prosecutor (OM) and newspaper De Telegraaf say that her name appears on one of the hundreds of pages in the shadow bookkeeping and suggests Jorritsma in 2000-01 (when she was a minister) paid Boele NLG 72,000 in relation to a school building project in Dronten.

The secret documents also appear to implicate Jorritsma's brother-in-law, Hylke Jorritsma.

He heads Jorritsma Bouw, a family business that is one of the biggest construction firms in the north of the Netherlands. Annemarie Jorritsma's 6.3 percent stake in the company is managed by a foundation, or stichting.

One mention in a pile of handwritten notes that were never intended to see the light of day seems circumstantial evidence of any wrong doing at best, but politically the inference could be very damaging.

Anyone who has lived in the Netherlands for a few years would have to have been sleeping for the entire time to have missed the scandal of the building industry and its "shadow bookkeeping".

Building companies, it seems, until recently kept two sets of accounts. The official set was intended for the authorities and the other was used to divvy up the share of illegal profits between supposedly rival companies.
 
In the shadow accounts, companies recorded how much above the legitimate price they charged the government for large, public projects such as road building and the construction of a train tunnel at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

Companies decided among themselves who would lodge the most advantageous bid to win a contract, and the "losers" would be compensated by an under-the-counter cut of the action.

Rumours of a cartel seem to have been knocking around the corridors of power for some time, but the "bull excrement" really hit the fan in November 2001 when Ad Bos, a former director of building firm Koop Tjuchem, handed a set of the shadow accounts to the public prosecutor.

This sparked a parliamentary inquiry, headed by green-left Groenlinks MP Marijke Vos, which heard dozens of witnesses in 2002.

As a former minister of Transport, Public Works and Waterways from 1994 to 1998, Jorritsma was questioned by the parliamentary commission for two hours. Jorritsma e

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