The public prosecutor who investigated the multimillion-dollar fraud of board chairman Frank Oranje van Pels Rijcken was called back from above in February when he wanted to scale up the criminal investigation. Instead, the top of the Public Prosecution Service decided to halt the investigation and to have a commercial agency engaged by Pels Rijcken investigate the fraud further. This is apparent from internal documents that NRC obtained after an appeal to the Open Government Act (Wob).
In March, state attorney Pels Rijcken announced that chairman of the board Orange had committed millions of dollars of fraud. The notary did not experience that anymore, he took his own life at the end of last year after the judiciary discovered his fraud. It is now clear that Orange stole at least 11 million euros over a period of more than twenty years, which he managed as a notary for clients.
Also read: The lifelong double game of top notary Frank Oranje
Pels Rijcken brought the fraud of Orange in March outwards. The firm then also announced that it had engaged Deloitte to investigate the fraud. At the time, the Public Prosecution Service said in a statement that its own criminal investigation had been “temporized” pending the findings of Deloitte. Only when Deloitte was ready would the Public Prosecution Service “see whether additional investigation was necessary”. Due to Orange’s death, there was no ‘criminal interest’ for additional investigation, the Public Prosecution Service ruled.
The internal documents show that the attending public prosecutor thought very differently about this three weeks earlier. “There are still too many unsolved cases,” he wrote to colleagues. So he wanted to “scale up instead of down.” It is not known which cases he was referring to, the Public Prosecution Service has these in the notice NRC provided documents painted black.
After consultation with the functional public prosecutor’s office – charged with fraud cases – the Public Prosecution Service decided to take a step back and pause the investigation. The reason, according to the Wob documents: Deloitte is going to investigate the same facts for a “substantial” part, so that the criminal investigation (code name Schaap) can best wait until Deloitte is ready. The Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service (FIOD), which conducted the investigation into Orange’s fraud, was told that it could take on a new job. However, attention was still needed for the “criminal legacy” of Orange.
The choice to pause the criminal investigation caused internal astonishment, according to the released e-mails. The day after Orange’s fraud had become public, a “discussion” arose during a weekly meeting of public prosecutors and there appeared to be “many questions” about the issue.
The fact that the Public Prosecution Service chose to put Pels Rijcken in charge of an investigation into fraud by its own chairman of the board fits in with a trend. The Public Prosecution Service announced in 2019 that in fraud cases it wants to rely more on commercial investigators who work for the company where the fraud has taken place. This saves investigative manpower, although the question is whether the full truth is revealed in such investigations. In answer to parliamentary questions Minister Ferd Grapperhaus (Justice, CDA) wrote that the Public Prosecution Service and the FIOD verify such an investigation by commercial parties after completion.
That also happens at Pels Rijcken. In February, the Public Prosecution Service decided that “a small team” of the FIOD will check the completed Deloitte investigation, according to the Wob documents. Deloitte also asked the Public Prosecution Service for access to ‘laptops, telephones’ and other Orange data carriers, which can normally only be viewed by the investigative authorities.
At the end of September, the Public Prosecution Service informed NRC know that the Deloitte inquiry had been received for review in the summer. “The FIOD will look into this in the near future. This could take some time.”
Earlier research by NRC showed last month that Orange’s fraud was more extensive and lasted longer than Pels Rijcken reported to Minister Grapperhaus on the basis of the Deloitte investigation this summer.
With the cooperation of Jorg Leijten
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of November 24, 2021
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