Lawyer NOHA case:
‘They’re pillorying this man’
‘The RUG didn’t miss out on a single cent’, says de Jong. ‘I read all 228 pages of the report, and it clearly states that all the money went to the project. We feel like he’s being pilloried and made an example of.’
On January 13, the RUG announced that the 1.2 million euros intended for the NOHA programme at the Faculty of Arts had ended up not with the RUG, but with a private foundation. The university fired one of its employees and issued a severe warning to two others. All three were involved in the private foundation Stichting NOHA Groningen.
The RUG also filed a report of (subsidy) fraud and falsification of documents and started a civil procedure against the fired employee. NOHA is the Network on Humanitarian Action, set up to improve humanitarian aid in crisis areas.
While the money, which included European subsidies and tuition fees, was transferred to the foundation’s bank account, De Jong says that every single cent ended up with the RUG’s NOAH programme. De Jong therefore doesn’t understand why the RUG wants to recoup the 1.2 million from his client.
‘I discussed the report with them in the first week of January and figured the claim for damages would go away, since my client didn’t pocket any of the money for himself’, De Jong says. ‘If the money first went to the foundation and then to the programme, what’s there for the RUG to recoup from my client?’
De Jong is not worried about the case against his client. He does say that the report shows that accounting can’t make up for two thousand of the 1.2 million euros. ‘But that’s all it is, an accounting mistake. That money hasn’t disappeared.’
The foundation was not officially part of the university and was therefore not allowed. De Jong says that by taking control of necessary payments, the fired employee was able to go around the university’s slow bureaucratic system. It was, he says, the only way to keep the international programme going.
‘Say you broke the rules and regulations, strictly speaking’, says De Jong. ‘If your motives were to deceive people and make money, case closed. But if nothing was actually stolen, and there wasn’t, you have to look at the moral considerations, and people aren’t doing that.’
De Jong wants to make it clear that his client’s intentions weren’t to deceive people, but to keep the programme going. ‘There are two questions we have to ask ourselves here: did the money end up with the project? And was it appropriately spent, as the schools inspectorate wants it to? The answer to both those questions is unreservedly yes.’