Court scraps prison sentence for money launderers in the Dutch Antilles "because everyone has done this"

ZWOLLE - The Court of Appeal of Arnhem-Leeuwarden on Friday put an end to the prison sentences that the court previously imposed on two Dutch brothers for large-scale money laundering practices in Curaçao through credit card transactions. According to the court, this 'swiping' with credit cards was a 'well-known revenue model', which was also tolerated by both the local banks and the central bank on the island.  


The court's ruling is good news for the brothers Omer G. (48) and Itzhak G. (56), who for years engaged in illegal dollar tourism from Venezuela in Curaçao. The Venezuelans purportedly bought goods (especially lingerie) from the family's businesses, but in reality received US dollars in cash from the local gambling industry. Nearly $323 million (€306 million) was laundered through 1 million swipe transactions between 2010 and 2014.  


The dollars went over the counter in the lingerie shops of the G. family in Curaçao, who had arranged ING payment terminals through the Amsterdam company. Thousands of Venezuelans, forced by the collapsing economy in their own country, came to the neighboring Antilles to exchange their worthless bolivars for dollars. They used 'dollar credit cards' specially facilitated by their government in Caracas, intended for specific purchases during foreign trips. 


Deal with OM 


In 2015, the brothers were handcuffed in a large-scale police operation. The two then made a deal with the Public Prosecution Service (OM): sentence reduction in exchange for openness and for handing over their illegally earned assets. But the court in Zwolle refused to agree to these process agreements. In the eyes of the judges, the deal was class justice and they sentenced both men to years in prison.  


The court now returns to that first conviction, and sentences the brothers only to the prison sentences they have already served during their pre-trial detention. 'Unlike the first court, this court takes into account the context in which the criminal offenses were committed when determining the sentence. (...) Swiping was a revenue model on the island from which many benefited. The phenomenon was well known in Curaçao and also in both the central and local banks and the handling of money in this way was at least tolerated by their advisers and their employees,' the justices write in their ruling. 


Mega settlement ING 


Incidentally, the court's ruling will raise eyebrows at ING, since the deliberate money laundering practices in Curaçao in 2018, among other things, led the OM to impose a mega settlement of € 775 million on the bank. The Public Prosecution Service accused ING of years of structural violation of the Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Prevention) Act (Wwft), as a result of which clients could use ING's accounts for criminal activities virtually undisturbed. ING itself would never have seen anything suspicious in the millions of transactions for lingerie that ran through the G. brothers' accounts. 


The lawyer Willem Koops (Summit) from The Hague, who made the process agreements with the judiciary on behalf of Itzhak G., calls the court's ruling 'groundbreaking since it finally establishes a link between the confiscation of assets and punishment'. The Public Prosecution Service is also satisfied with the verdict, says Advocate General Theo de Jong of the District Public Prosecutor's Office: 'On appeal, the Court of Appeal has looked at the cases in a nuanced manner and ruled that the process agreements between the Public Prosecution Service and the suspects are appropriate and correct.'  


By Bart Mos (Financieel Dagblad) 

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