Johan van Laarhoven

From “Ochtendgloren” to the hell of Bangkok

 Johan van Laarhoven is one of the pioneers in the history of Dutch coffeeshops. These shops are allowed to sell marihuana under the Dutch government drug tolerance policy. Johan was the first person to open up a coffeeshop outside big cities such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The first coffeeshop he opened is called ‘ochtendgloren’ located in Tilburg, which actually means dawn in Dutch. In the decennia that followed The Grass Company opened three more coffeeshops and became the biggest coffeeshop chain in the southern part of the Netherlands. Nowadays The Grass Company has four coffeeshops: Two in Tilburg and two in ‘s Hertogenbosch.

Johan van Laarhoven

Johan and Tukta in better times

At the end of 2008, after years of hard work, Johan moved to Thailand together with his Thai wife and two children. He wanted to spent more time with his family and decided that he want to enjoy life more and work less. In 2011 Johan decided that he wanted to retire, he sold his beloved company to the current owner. Around the same date that The Grass Company is sold the Dutch Public Prosecutor started a investigation and Johan van Laarhoven is one of the prime suspects.

Massive raids

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The Grass Company

As a result of the investigation many –massive- raids, with hundreds of police officers and other officials took place. All of the suspects where under heavy police surveillance and private estates where raided as well. The Public Prosecutor’ focus is not on drugs that are sold in the coffeeshops but on money laundering. According to Charles van der Voort (Chief Public Prosecutor) parts of the daily turnover are withheld from the Dutch Tax Office. Meanwhile the investigation is still ongoing after four years of research, and until this day none of the suspects is brought before a Dutch court.

Investigation without results

The investigation in the Netherlands is progressing slowely. In 2012 and 2014 the Dutch Public Prosecutor sends a letter rogatory to Thailand. This however, doesn’t have the intended result. On the 22nd of may 2014 the Thai government was overthrown by the Thai army. The constitution is dissolved and the Thai Junta achieves absolute power over Thailand. On the first of Juli 2014 the Dutch Public Prosecutor again sends a letter rogatory to Thailand. The Dutch Prosecutor is told by the Thai authorities that this request could take months to answer. The Dutch public prosecutor Lucas van Delft then orders a police officer, who works at the Dutch embassy in Bangkok, to increase the pressure on the Thai. This man wrote a letter to the Thai Public Prosecutor on July 14, 2014.

Brief KLPD aan Thaise justitie

The request to initiate an investigation

Letter to the Thai Public Prosecutor

This letter tells a complete different story then the official letter rogatory. The official one says that the investigation is focused on money laundering; this letter only speaks about drug related offenses. In the official letter the wife of Johan is a witness; in the new letter she is marked as a suspect. The letter rogatory asks help with the Dutch investigation; The unofficial letter asks the Thai justice department to initiate a criminal case against Johan and his wife, under the regime of the current Thai Junta.

The arrest
On the 22nd of juli 2014 the Dutch attorney of Johan, Gerard Spong, sends a letter to the Dutch Public Prosecutor which states that Johan can be in the Netherlands within five days when the Dutch authorities want him so. However, when the Thai hear the word drugs, they act immediately. With a great show of force and a live broadcast on national television Johan van Laarhoven and his wife were arrested on the 23th of juli 2014. Johan doesn’t get transferred to the Netherlands but becomes a prime suspect for the Thai justice department.

In juli 2015 the court of Bangkok declares that the Dutch police-officer, who wrote the letter on 14th of juli 2014, was instructed by the Dutch Public Prosecutor to make haste. He therefore sends a very incriminating letter to his Thai colleagues. When the Thai judge asks him if he had further knowledge of the case, he answers that he is not aware of any particular details.

Severely misled

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mr. Spong with his Thai colleague in The Grass Company

The Dutch attorney, Gerard Spong, declares to the regional TV-channel Omroep – Brabant: “ They just want to screw my client over; That is everything! I’m just saying this in a popular manner, but it basically comes down to the same thing. Off course this makes me outmost angry, it makes me furious. I have to conclude that the Dutch Public Prosecutor has deceived the whole thing seriously. And he has made abuse of his powers. It is quite normal and customary in international law that if you do issue a letter rogatory that you wait for local procedures. You just wait and see how the Thai authorities deal with your request. And then you don’t go out behind people’s back making things seem worse than they are.”

On the contrary

Sources at the justice department said to Omroep-Brabant that they also are not happy with the situation. There must have things gone wrong in Bangkok. As a result Johan van Laarhoven now is in a Thai prison. But in front of the camera the Dutch justice department says other wise. They didn’t gave the order to the Thai to iniatie a criminial case against van Laarhoven. Chief Public Prosecutor stated to Omroep-Brabant: “The Thai authorities used our information to start their independent investigation with regards to money laundering, and that is their good right. It is regrettable for Johan van Laarhoven and his family. But I can reiterate that it was never our intention. But I can not tell the authorities in another country what to do or not.”

The conclusion of Omroep – Brabant: “The Dutch Public Prosecutor denies that they asked the Thai authorities to prosecute van Laarhoven. But the letter of the 14th of juli 2014 shows otherwise.

As a sad result of the proceedings of the Dutch Public Prosecutor Johan and his wife are being held in detention since 23th juli of 2014. They are being held in Bangkok under horrific conditions.

The sentence of 10 november 2015

Johan van Laarhoven was sentenced by a court in Bangkok on November 10, 2015 to 103 years in prison, of which he certainly will have stay for twenty years. His wife Tukta has been confined to 18 years of imprisonment, of which she has to stay twelve years.. Justice for Johan therefore launched a petition where we want to move the Dutch government to get Johan and Tukta back to the Netherlands and to ensure that they receive a fair trial before a Dutch court.

Summary of the verdict

In the first paragraph you can read that the prosecution was at the explicit request of the Dutch liaison officer from Dutch Embassy. Furthermore the court states nothing about crimes in the Netherlands and simply states that the sale of cannabis is punishable under Thai law. The AMLA (Anti-Money Laundering Act) states since August 2013 that offenses outside the Kingdom of Thailand may constitute a predicate offense for money laundering. On this basis, the Thai court considers that the sale of cannabis in the Netherlands constitutes a predicate offense for money laundering in Thailand. The Dutch policy of tolerance with regards to cannabis, is not respected.

The consequence of this ruling is that all Dutch coffeeshop owners (or other cannabis dispensaries worldwide) and employees are guilty according to the Thai law on money laundering when they spend or invest their money in Thailand. This yielded the bizarre situation that Johan could run a respectable business and decently paid his taxes, but subsequently is convicted of money laundering in Thailand.

Horrific conditions in the Thai prison

Johan and Tukta ended up in the Remand Prison in Bangkok. Not the infamous Bangkok Hilton, but here the conditions are just as horrible and degrading. With 50 people in an area of 40 square meters. As their ‘bed’: a rubber mat on the floor. Fellow prisoners with AIDS and Open Turbucoleses. A fellow prisoner who dies in the cell is to be removed only days after deceasing. The heat, the stench, the disgusting food. Johan himself is struggling with serious health problems: problems with his gall bladder, diabetes and chronic ear infections and also a heartcondition. Then there are the psychological symptoms: inability to provide for his children, little or no contact with family the feeling of unjustness and total loss of control

In October 2015 Johan van Laarhoven wrote to Doede de Jong, a famous biological weed grower.

“Spong and colleagues have gone through the criminal file of The Grass Company and encountered no crimes, just problems around the tolerance policy, which are political problems for every coffeeshop owner in the Netherlands. Also Prof. Mr. Dr. Guido de Bont, a leading tax lawyer and professor, the file has been coming to the same conclusion: there is nothing wrong with The Grass Company, it is a well organized company where no crimes are committed.

This reconstruction is based on reports from the NRC Handelsblad/Omroep Brabant, Cannabis News Network, Panorama, MM Men Magazine and Johan letters to the foundation for Association of Cannabis Prohibition Abolition (VOC).