The founder and former owner of the Dutch coffeeshop chain The Grass Company, Johan van Laarhoven, has been sentenced in Thailand to 103 years in jail, on charges of money laundering.
The most salient part of this story: the charges are based on money he earned by selling cannabis in the Netherlands. Which, according to the Dutch gedoogbeleid (loosely translated: toleration policy), is legal. Like any business, taxes were paid. So how can this be seen as money laundering?
Van Laarhoven had been living with his wife in Thailand for years and was arrested in July 2014 at the request of the Dutch Justice department, following a long-running investigation into the TGC coffeeshops.
The Thai media depicts him as a European version of drugs lord Pablo Escobar. A completely unjust and misguided view, as Van Laarhoven's source of income was from legal trade. It seems the Thai prosecution was not informed of the 'gedoogbeleid' and viewed this case as one revolving around illegal drugs trade, just like the infamous Columbian trafficker Escobar. Deliberate deception by the Dutch authorities, it seems. This has now led to a completely ridiculous sentence of 103 years in prison, of which he needs to serve 20 years.
The health problems Van Laarhoven suffers from and the appalling conditions in the Bangkok Remand Prison mean this verdict amounts to a death sentence, according to his brother.
"The case concerns investments by Van Laarhoven in Thailand, using profits from his coffeeshops," said his lawyer Smeets.
Smeets: "It's utterly incomprehensible that he earned a decent living in the Netherlands and paid his taxes, only to be convicted for money laundering in Thailand."
"It seems the Thai court has been misled by the Dutch police," says Smeets. "They told the court how he earned this money but failed to explain what the Dutch gedoogbeleid means. How can it be a crime if what he did in the Netherlands was perfectly legal?"
Justice for Johan
The VOC (Dutch Association for the abolition of Cannabis prohibition) has launched the website www.justiceforjohan.nl. This site tells his side of the story. It's also a call to every coffeeshop and cannabis fan to write Johan a letter of encouragement, or to write a letter to the authorities to ask for his return to the Netherlands.