Three former Ahold executives accused of involvement in a massive accountancy fraud have had their sentences sharply reduced on appeal.
For at least five years, Ahold included on its own books all the sales booked by its partly-owned subsidiaries, in defiance of US accounting rules. It then covered up the fraud using forged letters which claimed it had full control of the other companies.
Michel Meurs, found guilty of masterminding the scheme, was given the toughest sentence – a six-month suspended jail term, 240 hours of community service and a fine of €100,000. At the 2006 trial he was given nine months in jail.
The court said there was not enough evidence to prove that former CEO Cees van der Hoeven was aware of the fraud for more than three months before the news broke in early 2003.
He was fined €30,000 for attempting to cover up events. ‘This is exactly what I have always said I did wrong,’ the Financieele Dagblad quoted Van der Hoeven as saying.
Fellow executive Jan Andreae was given a three-month suspended sentence and fined €50,000 for his role in the cover-up.
A fourth suspect, supervisory board member Roland Fahlin, was found not guilty, in line with the lower court ruling.
Marcel Pheijffer, a professor of forensic accounting at Nyenrode University, said he was shocked by the low sentences. ‘This is more of a reward than a punishment for Van der Hoeven,’ the FD quoted him as saying. ‘This way keeping information back from your accountants almost becomes attractive. That worries me deeply in these turbulent times.’
The financial press say this is the biggest Dutch book-keeping fraud to come to trial. The scandal coincided with another case involving massive fraud at Ahold’s US Foodservice subsidiary and the company almost collapsed.
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