Willem Endstra: honest businessman or crook?
Dutch real estate magnate Willem Endstra claimed he made his millions legally, but his vicious murder this week has amplified questions surrounding his alleged criminal links. Who was he and how real were his alleged underworld connections? Aaron Gray-Block reports.
Amsterdam has been
One of the wealthiest men in the Netherlands, Endstra was the subject of persistent money laundering suspicions, but he always vehemently denied any links to the murky Dutch underworld. Yet, his brutal murder has added fire to the cauldron of doubt.
The authorities have found it difficult to make allegations against Endstra stick and he never obliged their questions with the confession - earning him the nickname Willem de Zwijger, William the Silent. In a further blow to the prosecution, Amsterdam Court ruled on 13 May that it was "highly unlikely" he would be convicted of money laundering.
Shortly before his assassination, Endstra had lodged a legal objection against his pending prosecution in what is commonly referred to as a type of fencing action. And the court ruled in his favour, deciding that the criminal financial investigation has not provided any evidence.
Despite the ruling, the public prosecutor's office (OM) was free to continue its investigation of Endstra in the so-called building fund case, in which the defendant allegedly committed fraud in property deals.
Endstra's lawyer said last week that the results of 14 years of uninterrupted investigation into Endstra's dealings had produced very little evidence of criminality against his client. The tycoon was expecting an eventual acquittal.
The real estate magnate also appeared on television on Sunday night proclaiming his innocence again. It was a noteworthy move, considering Endstra has avoided the media in the past.
Endstra took his
He was outraged by the publication of his photograph in the Dutch business magazine Quote. He tried unsuccessfully to stop Quote from printing photographs of him, claiming that it put his life in danger. The photos were part of a feature about Endstra's alleged criminal ties.
A court initially sided with Endstra, but reversed its injunction against Quote within 24 hours when the magazine produced a photo of Endstra sitting on a park bench talking with Willem Holleeder - one of the men jailed for kidnapping beer magnate Freddie Heineken in 1983.
Fast forward to Sunday night and Endstra said in the Business Class programme on RTL 5 that Holleeder was seated on a bench in front his Amsterdam office. "He is also a public figure in Amsterdam that you come across everywhere," Endstra said.
Endstra also claimed it was an old photo and that he wanted to prevent its publication because he was being threatened, Dutch public news service NOS reported.
Wealthy property tycoon
The son of railway magnate Minne Endstra, he started work at the age of 16 in his father's company Armita, which later grew to become an important supplier of trains to Dutch rail operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS).
He studied law at night at Amsterdam's Vrije Universiteit and under the watchful eye of his father started to invest in real estate. In the 1980s - the start of the real estate boom - Endstra's Convoy Vastgoed (Convoy Real Estate) grew to a multimillion business.
He became one of the largest property owners in the Netherlands and was listed last year by Quote magazine as the 93rd richest person in the country with a fortune of EUR 200 million.
In 2002, Endstra was listed as the 36th richest person with a total wealth of EUR 350 million, RTL news reported.
Suspicions and legitimacy
The businessman was first publicly linked to possible wrongdoing in 1992 when the OM accused him of laundering money for an ecstasy gang. The leader of the gang was jailed for 10 years, but Endstra never appeared in court.
It is alleged that Endstra paid justice officials about EUR 1 million to prevent his possible prosecution, but the tycoon denied the rumours.
Stories followed over alleged links to investments conducted for the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, bankruptcy fraud with a real estate fund and involvement in the so-called Bouwfondsaffaire (building fund affair).
But despite the suspicions around him, Endstra continued to conduct business openly and bought a property management company from the Velsen town council at the end of the 1990s, working as a commissioner of the company from the start of 2000.
The company managed real estate owned by the Dutch State and his methods were described in IJmuiden - the heart of the Velsen municipality - as above-board and business-like.
A council official said meetings were conducted at municipal offices and no extra security precautions were taken. Endstra was also described as being very relaxed.
Business partner Klaas Hummel was reported to have said at the end of 2002 that Endstra was linked with legitimate financial institutions such as FGH-bank, Deutsche Bank, Bouwfonds, Fortis and Rabobank.
But the prosecution raised doubts about his links with Bouwfonds, a subsidiary of respected Dutch bank ABN Amro. Endstra reportedly had hundreds of millions of euros in credit with the company Bouwfonds.
The relationship reportedly involved Endstra and Hummel taking over "problem premises" for Bouwfonds, which provided the finances.
Quote reports that properties changed hands several times in a short space of time, a tactic that can be used in money laundering. It has thus been alleged that Endstra committed fraud in the transfer of the premises.
'Banker of the underworld'
Endstra has also been linked in various other ways to possible wrong doing, making headlines in August 2002 when top drugs criminal John Mieremet told newspaper De Telegraaf that Endstra was the "banker of the underworld".
Mieremet claimed that the Endstra family had invested tens of millions of dirty money in real estate for his partner Ria Eelzak. According to Mieremet, a conflict erupted over the money when Endstra failed to repay it.
Endstra said it was uncertain why Mieremet made the claims, but also admitted that he'd had business problems with Eelzak.
Once Endstra's photo with Holleeder was published in 2002, business partner Hummel ended his relationship and the Volkskrant quotes an unnamed real estate boss claiming that other business contacts had also distanced themselves from Endstra.
"The publication of the photo was the dividing line," the unnamed source said.
Other criminals such as Holleeder were alleged to have invested money or had credit with Endstra, who reportedly came under increasing pressure in 2002 and 2003 when a rogue's gallery of crime figures demanded repayments.
Talking to the police
Endstra is said to have felt pressured enough to give secret statements to police at the end of 2003. During the talks - conducted in the presence of his lawyer Jurjen Pen - he said he felt threatened and was being blackmailed.
Police had also warned Endstra several times that he was in danger, but Endstra reportedly refused to identify his enemies out of fears for his safety.
No arrests could therefore be carried out, but it has been suggested that Endstra's police statements led directly to his death. He was shot and killed outside his office on the Apollolaan in Amsterdam on Monday.
His untimely death leaves open the question whether he was an honest businessman - treated unfairly by the police, the media and ultimately, by criminals - or whether he was a greedy crook who paid the ultimate price for crossing his underworld partners.