It is reported that Dutch prosecutors have already agreed to pay €20 million to the Dutch national whose arrest and imprisonment were sparked by a letter from Dutch authorities to their counterparts in Thailand. Earlier this year, the Dutch Ombudsman sharply criticised the handling of the matter by officials and MPs have called on the Dutch government to work to have Johan Van Laarhoven and his Thai wife returned to the Netherlands.

The Dutch Justice Minister was in Bangkok on Friday and met the Thai Prime Minister ostensibly to discuss cooperation between Thailand and the Netherlands on legal matters and justice. However, it understood from sources in the Netherlands that the Justice Minister raised the extraordinary case of Johan Van Laarhoven, a Dutch national serving 75 years in a Thai prison, with the Thai leader.

Dutch Justice Minister had promised MPs in the Netherlands that he would work to secure the release of Dutchman Johan Van Laarhoven and his Thai wife who are both serving prison sentences in Thailand. The case has caused controversy in the Netherlands where authorities have accepted liability for the jailing of Mr Van Laarhoven due to communications between Dutch and Thai authorities in 2014.

The Dutch Justice Minister, Ferd Grapperhaus, paid a visit to the office of Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on Friday. Following the meeting, the minister referred to the 415-year-old relationship between Thailand and the Netherlands and it was reported the two discussed mutual cooperation between the two countries on legal and justice matters. The prime minister’s office made similar pronouncements.

However, it is also understood that the Dutch justice minister raised the case of Johan Van Laarhoven and his Thai wife who are currently serving long prison sentences in Thai prison.

Outcry in the Netherlands over the fate of  Johan Van Laarhoven serving 75 years in Thai prison

In the Netherlands, there has been a public outcry about the case and the minister had indicated that he was visiting Bangkok on a diplomatic mission to raise the case with Thai authorities. Earlier this year, Dutch MPs called on the government to do everything possible to secure the release of Mr Van Laarhoven from prison. It followed his arrest in 2014 by Thai authorities which is believed to have been sparked by a letter from Dutch officials to their counterparts in Bangkok.

Ombudsmen in The Hague criticised Dutch officials for their handling of the matter

The Ombudsman in the Netherlands in a scathing report held officials working for Dutch authorities responsible for the 2014 arrest of John Van Laarhoven in Thailand. It has been reported that the Dutch prosecutor’s office has agreed with Van Laarhoven’s legal representatives a settlement of 20 million for the nightmare he has been enduring in a Thai prison for the last five years.

Problem stems from a difference in the legal system and laws in Thailand and the Netherlands

The problem stems from a difference of emphasis in the law in Thailand and the Netherlands. Mr Van Laarhoven was a successful operator of coffee shops in Tilburg and Den Bosch which quite legally sold cannabis. It should be noted that he had his fair share of run-ins with Dutch authorities over minor legal matters and infringements such as the amount of cannabis he was legally entitled to have in stock at any one time in his shops. It is understood that he ran a thriving  commercial operation

Dutchman sold his business at home in 2008 and retired to live in luxury in Pattaya

The Dutchman sold his business in 2008 and retired to live in Pattaya in style with his Thai wife. He owned a palatial home and had enough money to live in style for the rest of his life.

Some outstanding tax issues in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, there was some tax dispute about the taxes owed by Van Laarhoven to Dutch authorities which the Dutchman was having handled by professionals in his home country which is quite normal in business. The problem occurred when a letter was sent to Thai authorities seeking further information on his status in Thailand and mentioning his former line of business. The Dutch officials were pursuing a tax case and looking for helpful information to counter Van Laarhoven’s professionals in the Netherlands.

Thai  authorities arrested Van Laarhoven in 2014 in a well-publicised raid on his home

However, the letter led to a rather unexpected outcome. This was an investigation of Van Laarhoven by Thai authorities who treated him and his wealth as a case of money laundering as the sale of cannabis is a serious offence in Thailand. He was arrested in 2014 following a raid on his home which was carried on some Thai TV channels. In 2015, he was sentenced to  103 years in prison. His wife received a 13-year term.

103 years reduced to 75 years on appeal

In 2017, a Thai Appeals Court upheld his conviction but his prison sentence was reduced to 75 years and his wife’s prison term was halved. In the meantime, the Dutchman was reporting severe health problems in prison where he was sharing a cell at times with up to 70 inmates and sleeping on a concrete floor. His family have been supporting him continuously since his incarceration in Thailand visiting him, bringing him food and liaising with legal advisers in Thailand and the Netherlands on his behalf.

Dutch prosecutors agreed to pay Van Laarhoven €20 million in compensation over the affair and accepted liability for his arrest and prosecution in Thailand

Dutch authorities through the compensation package agreed between the prosecutor’s office and Van Laarhoven’s legal advisers, have accepted liability for the fate of the Dutchman. The report from the Dutch Ombudsman was published earlier this year into the affair. Some MPs in the Netherlands have been particularly appalled that the action of Dutch officials has led to the imprisonment of Mr Van Laarhoven’s Thai wife.

Dutchman sentenced legitimately by a Thai court according to Thai law based on the evidence

However, all this does not negate the fact that the foreign national and his wife were convicted legitimately by a Thai court based on Thai law and jurisprudence which foreigners to Thailand should be well aware by now, has a different approach and emphasis from western legal systems. This is more particularly emphasised in European countries where the human rights of the individual have steadily increased due to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

Nevertheless, the Thai court heard all the evidence concerning the case including Mr Van Laarhoven’s submissions but still convicted him. This was confirmed on appeal even though his sentence was reduced.

Statement from PM and Dutch minister following their meeting on Friday in Bangkok

Following Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s meeting with the Dutch justice minister on Friday, he praised the Netherlands for its emphasis on individual human rights and the protections it offers to its citizens. He also said that Thailand’s legal system is operated under Thailand’s own laws which accord to international practices.

The two ministers emphasised, however, the need to cooperate on legal matters. The prime minister noted that the Netherlands was a member of the European Union and large economic investor in Thailand.

Further reading:

More foreign nationals in Thai prison but there are conflicting reports on harsh conditions