They got the fright of their lies when the public prosecutor read out the sentence demands last Thursday. The eight suspects in the large-scale fraud case at the RUG had not expected such severe punishments.
Four years for main suspect Hans G., three years (including one year probation) for his son, three and a half (including one year probation) for the installation companies, two and a half years (including one year probation) for the former daughter-in-law, a year and a half for the handyman (including six months of probation), eighteen months for his colleague (including six months of probation), and 150 hours of community service for his wife.
‘These are excessive’, says Arco de Kruijff, Hans G.’s lawyer. ‘Even if the court does declare all the facts proved.’ After all, up until a few years ago, doing each other favours was completely normal in the construction world. ‘That’s the world he grew up in. He just didn’t retire on time. If he had, he’d just be one of those people about whom Poppema (editor’s note: the RUG president) said: “Should we be going after people from the past? We’re going to let sleeping dogs lie.”‘
Marjet Heeg, lawyer for Hans G.’s former colleague Margreet B., agrees with De Kruijff. She, too, feels the demand is too high. ‘The main suspect was able to do what he wanted for years and all he gets is four years. While my client, who didn’t even know about the fraud, would have to serve eighteen months.’
The lawyers feel that their clients have been punished enough. Almost all of the suspects spent time in jail during the preliminary investigation. And the interviews conducted by the Fiscal Intelligence and Investigative Services (FIOD) were also pretty tough. Something like that leaves a lasting impression, defence counsels say.
‘Michiel (editor’s note: G.’s son) learned a few real life lessons because of this case’, according to his lawyer, Lisa van der Wal. ‘And the demand is relatively high in comparison to the people who actually came up with and employed the fraudulent construction. The four-year demand came up in another case, but that one involved fraud worth 24 million euros. This is nothing compared to that.’
‘They knew nothing’
Besides: they knew nothing about anything. Hans put his son and former daughter-in-law on the payroll of two installation companies with whom he was friendly. But Michiel and Kasia say they never knew that was not on the level. They actually did work for those companies. Not a lot of work, but that is not a crime. The lawyers also argue that invoices that show that the RUG ended up paying for those costs do not exist. ‘And giving your kid some cash every once in a while shouldn’t be seen as weird’, according to Van der Wal.
‘Margreet (editor’s note: Hans G.’s former colleague) didn’t know about the fraud’, says Heeg. ‘He didn’t involve her in it. He never gave her any insight into the deals that were behind it all.’
What about the 7,500 euros that was transferred into her account by one of the installation companies under the name ‘boat’? ‘She always thought that was legal.’ Because just like all the other suspects, Margreet ‘blindly trusted’ Hans G. ‘This meant she never intuited that things were a bit fishy’, her lawyer says.
No paper trail
The business owners emphasise that the claim that the RUG was duped is only corroborated by witness statements. ‘The FIOD, Hoffmann bedrijfsrecherche, the accountants: no one has been able to find a single piece of paper to substantiate these claims’, says Michel Ossentjuk, defence counsel for handyman Teun B. and business owner Jan J. ‘Not a single invoice can be directly linked to the RUG. That is curious. I can’t make heads or tails of it.’
He also says these witness statements should be taken with a grain of salt. ‘Some of these statements are from spiteful employees who were exaggerating things’, according to Ossentjuk.
The fact that they never told anyone at the university, never asked questions about where the money came from, or collaborated in the ‘false’ employment and the trade of building material for which the RUG footed the bill, is not so strange either, according to the fellow suspects.
The business owners were completely dependent on Hans G., they say. If they went against him, they would lose their work at the university. ‘He was in a vulnerable position, forced to participate in G.’s plans’, says Ossentjuk.
Hans G. would not take no for an answer, says his former colleague Margreet B. He had all the characteristics of a dictator, she feels. ‘At the start and the end of the day we always had to hug Hans. If I didn’t hug him, he would ignore me. If I did, the day was off to a good start. Even refusing a kiss in the morning was disastrous. One colleague, who twice refused to kiss G., was told she could pack her things and leave.’
They were all scared they would end up like the business owner in 2011 who warned Hans G.’s colleagues and managers for ‘messing with the invoices’. ‘Society offers no protection for whistleblowers. They’re often given the cold shoulder, or lose their jobs’, says Heeg. ‘If Margreet had been a whistleblower, the RUG would not have protected her.’
Speaking of that whistleblower in 2011, the business owners feel that the RUG did not adequately respond to that. ‘If they had, my client would’ve never been involved in the fraud’, says Mathieu van Linde, lawyer for Marinus P.
And that, they feel, means the university is partially responsible for the fraud. ‘The Board of Directors shoulders some of the blame. They shouldn’t have allowed Hans G. to be in a position where he could pressure these companies’, says Ossentjuk.
Concerning handyman Teun B., he says: ‘Although he certainly made mistakes, he was the victim of a large societal organisation that failed to prevent this from happening.’
Hans G. also points the finger at his department. According to his lawyer, he is not the one who created the breeding ground for the fraud. ‘That empire was already in place. There already existed a system of very little oversight. He created neither the empire, nor the rules governing it. He merely joined in on something that was already going on. People just deemed him the right person for the job.’
On Thursday, the public prosecutor will respond to the defence. After that, the lawyers get one more turn. At the end of the day, the suspects get the final word.
On 17 May, the court will deliver its judgement in the case.