Ex-minister denies fraud as inquiries start
17 February 2004
AMSTERDAM — As the fallout from the latest Dutch building fraud scandal continued, a prosecution spokesman said inquiries are being conducted to establish whether former government minister Annemarie Jorritsma was involved in illegal pricing agreements.
But the Public Prosecution Office (OM) officially denied it was conducting a specific inquiry into Jorritsma, a former deputy prime minister, and said instead that it was conducting preliminary investigations into building fraud and the possible role of various individuals.
The announcement comes amid new allegations of illegal practices in the building sector and a report that the public prosecution ignored information from a whistle blower about alleged fraud and public servant corruption in office construction projects.
The building industry has been rocked in recent years by a massive fraud scandal and recently uncovered documents indicate that the depth of corruption is larger than previously thought, prompting the new inquiry by the OM.
Newspaper De Telegraaf revealed over the weekend that documents found at construction company Boele & Van Eesteren — a subsidiary of Koninklijke Volker Wessels Stevin — detail alleged illegal pricing agreements for building projects between 1998 and 2001.
It is implied that universities, hospitals and schools have been defrauded of hundreds of thousands and possibly up to EUR 1 million for various building works. Price agreements were also allegedly made for commercial and home construction projects.
The documents also suggest that construction company Jorritsma Bouw — in which Jorritsma holds a 6.3 percent share — entered into an illegal price agreement. The allegations relate to, among other projects, the building of a school in Dronten, where Jorritsma Bouw was the chief contractor.
The documents reportedly include a letter in which Almere Mayor Jorritsma was named. The letter dates back to 2000-01 when she was Economic Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the Wim Kok Cabinet. It details agreements over financial settlements.
Both Jorritsma and Jorritsma Bouw have denied any involvement in wrong doing, with the former minister claiming the allegations are “complete bullshit”. Despite the denials, the prosecution is examining the allegations and opposition MPs have demanded answers from Jorritsma.
Meanwhile, the Housing Ministry passed information from a whistle blower to justice officials in October 2003, but the Rotterdam public prosecutor’s office ignored the information about alleged office construction fraud, newspaper De Volkskrant reported on Tuesday.
The whistle blower reportedly told the ministry that he has information about prosecutable offences linked to the construction of ministry buildings.
The alleged crimes may have been committed a long time ago so the statute of limitations may apply and no prosecution would now be possible. But the source also said the government can still recoup its losses — extending into the billions of euros — via civil law procedures.
The man claimed to have shadow bookkeeping records and original documents detailing illegal pre-contract talks that identify companies and individuals involved. He also claimed to have evidence of pubic servant corruption.
An OM spokesman said it is not clear what eventually happened to the report.
In other developments, the competition watchdog NMa said the latest investigation can be completed quickly due to the willingness of construction companies to co-operate with inquiries, news agency ANP reported.
The NMa will also be able to drawn on experience gained from its previous construction fraud inquiry, which was launched in November 2001, it said.
Shadow accounts at construction company Koop Tjuchem led to parliamentary, judiciary and NMa inquiries into widespread fraud in the construction of roads, tunnels and bridges.
The parliamentary commission’s report was issued in December 2002 and the first fines were imposed last year. Judicial inquires into the scandal continue.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news