Dutch cannabis pioneer returns home after 5 years in Thai prison

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January
18,
2020



 
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Johan
and
Tukta
Van
Laarhoven
before
their
arrest.
Johan
has
returned
to
the
Netherlands,
but
Tukta
remains
in
prison
because
she
is
a
Thai
citizen.
(Courtesy
of
Justice
for
Johan)

Johan
van
Laarhoven,
the
Dutch
cannabis
coffeeshop
pioneer
who
has
been
detained
in
Thailand
for
over
five
years
on
drug
charges,
returned
to
his
native
country
on
January
16.
It’s
a
spectacular
turn
in
a
dramatic
and
closely
watched
saga—but
Van
Laarhoven
is
still
not
free.
Neither
is
his
wife
Tukta.

After
his
arrival
at
Schiphol
Airport
in

Amsterdam
,
Van
Laarhoven,
who
has
become
a
symbol
of
the
Dutch
government’s
contradictory
cannabis
policy,
was
transported
to
a
maximum
security
prison.
Leafly
first
began

covering
his
case

in
2016.

The
first
Dutch
cannabis
coffeeshop
chain

Johan
van
Laarhoven
(59)
is
a
self-made
man
in
every
sense.
Back
in
1981
he
started
selling
cannabis
in
Tilburg,
his
hometown
in
the
south
of
the
Netherlands.

Over
the
years
he
built
his
operation,
The
Grass
Company,
into
a
chain
of
four
first-class
cannabis
coffeeshops
in
Tilburg
and
Den
Bosch.
He
sold
the
company
in
2011
and
retired
to
Thailand
with
his
wife
Tukta,
a
Thai
citizen.

Disaster
struck
in
the
summer
of
2014,
when
a
large
local
police
force
raided
Van
Laarhoven’s
villa
in
Phuket,
Thailand.
The
Dutch
expat
and
his
wife
were
both
arrested.

Johan
was
put
in
a
50
square-meter
cell
with
49
other
inmates,
infested
with
cockroaches
and
a
bucket
for
a
toilet.
During
the
course
of
his
subsequent
trial
it
became
clear
what
had
prompted
the
raid.

Acting
on
a
Dutch
prosecutor’s
orders

In
the
early
summer
of
2014,
a
Dutch
prosecutor’s
office
sent
a
number
of
letters
to
Thai
authorities
informing
them
that
van
Laarhoven
was
under
criminal
investigation
for
large-scale
drug
dealing.

The
prosecutor
accused
Van
Laarhoven
of tax
evasion,
money
laundering
and
membership
in
a
criminal
organization.

Dutch
authorities
didn’t
mention
that
Van
Laarhoven
always
had
licenses
to
operate
his
coffeeshops
and
followed
all
the
rules
of
the
globally
famous
Dutch
tolerance
policy.
Nor
did
they
mention
that
Van
Laarhoven
had
never
been
convicted
of
any
crime
in
the
Netherlands.

When
Thai
officials
chose
not
to
act
on
the
initial
letters,
the
Dutch
prosecutor
went
further,
accusing
Tukta
van
Laarhoven
of
complicity
and
literally
asking
the
Thai
authorities
to
start
a
criminal
investigation
into
the
couple.

2014
arrest,
conviction

The
fact
that
there
had
been
a
military
coup
in
Thailand
in
May
2014,
just
weeks
before
the
letters,
didn’t
seem
to
bother
the
Dutch
prosecutor.
He
effectively
accused
Johan
and
Tukta
van
Laarhoven
of
being
international
drug
dealers
and
insisted
the
military
government
arrest
them.

The
results
were
disastrous.
Johan
was
initially
sentenced
to
103
years
in
jail,
Tukta
to
68
years.

‘Justice
for
Johan’

Johan’s
brother
Frans
van
Laarhoven,
working
together
with
the

VOC
,
a
Dutch
NGO
advocating
for
legalization
of
cannabis,
started
a
campaign
and
website
called

Justice
for
Johan

to
bring
him
back
home
for
a
fair
trial.
(Full
disclosure:
The
author
of
this
article
is
a
VOC
founder.)

Only
one
member
of
the
Dutch
parliament
took
up
the
cause
of
Johan
and
Tukta,
Vera
Bergkamp
of
the
liberal
D66
party.
But
she
did
it
with
great
determination
and
stamina.


Cannabis
activists
in
the
Netherlands
started
an
international
campaign
to
free
the
Dutch
pioneer.
(Courtesy
of
Justice
for
Johan)

2019
report:
‘not
properly
considered’

Largely
thanks
to
Bergkamp’s
continued
efforts,
the
Dutch
National
Ombudsman
investigated
the
Van
Laarhoven
case
and
published
a
critical
report
in
March
2019.
The
Ombudsman
concluded
that
the
Dutch
authorities
had
operated
in
a
careless
fashion:
“The
Dutch
government
has
lost
sight
of
the
couple’s
perspective.
It
was
not
properly
considered
whether
the
chosen
means
were
proportionate
to
the
chosen
goal.”

The
Ombudsman
report
proved
to
be
a
turning
point.
When
Parliament
debated
the
report
in
April
2019,
justice
minister
Ferd
Grapperhaus
acknowledged
that
things
had
gone
wrong.
He
promised
to
take
action
to
bring
both
Johan
and
Tukta
to
the
Netherlands.

Grapperhaus
declared
that
he
was
deeply
touched
by
a
letter
Johan
had
sent
to
him
from
his
prison
cell.
In
this
letter,
Johan
wrote:


“We
sleep
here
without
a
bed
or
mattress
and
we
are
forced
to
relieve
ourselves
in
the
cell.
I
live
with
thirteen
other
men
in
a
cell
of
11
m2.
During
the
day
it’s
warmer
than
40
°C.
There’s
all
manner
of
vermin
and
a
lot
of
violence.
There’s
hardly
any
adequate
medical
care.”

High-level
negotiations

Grapperhaus
made
good
on
his
promise
and
travelled
to
Bangkok
last
August
to
discuss
the
case
with
the
Thai
prime
minister
General
Prayut
Chan-o-cha
and
justice
minister
Somsak
Thepsutin.
The
Dutch
press
reported
last
week
how
a
Dutch
team
has
closely
cooperated
with
Thai
officials
since
August
to
repatriate
Johan
van
Laarhoven
under
an
extradition
treaty
between
the
two
countries.

And
then
finally,
on
January
16,
exactly
2004
days
after
he
was
arrested,
Johan
was
put
on
flight
KL0876
from
Bangkok
to
Amsterdam.
He
landed
at
Schiphol
airport
in
the
early
evening
and
was
transported
to
a
maximum
security
prison
in
Vught,
just
twenty
kilometers
from
his
hometown
of
Tilburg.
Because
his
wife
Tukta
is
not
a
Dutch
citizen,
she
remains
incarcerated
in
Thailand.

Next:
Fight
the
charges
on
home
soil

So
what
will
happen
next?
According
to
the
extradition
treaty,
Johan
has
to
spend
16
months
of
his
remaining
sentence
in
the
Netherlands.
His
lawyers
have
already
applied
for
a
pardon,
because
of
the
extraordinary
circumstances
and
background
of
the
case.

Apart
from
the
Thai
sentence,
the
original
Dutch
criminal
investigation
is
still
ongoing.
The
prosecutor’s
office
said
this
week
that
they
will
continue
Johan’s
prosecution
for
alleged
tax
evasion,
money
laundering
and
membership
of
a
criminal
organization,
now
that
he’s
back
home.

“A
harsh
public
prosecutor,”
responded
Sidney
Smeets,
one
of
Van
Laarhoven’s
lawyers
in
a
tweet.
“Yet
at
the
same
time
an
opportunity
for
our
client
to
prove
his
innocence
and
to
show
that
his
Thai
detention
as
a
result
of
the
actions
of
‘cheating
prosecutor’
Van
Delft
was
even
more
careless
than
the
National
Ombudsman
showed
in
his
report.”

Lawsuits
are
coming

At
a
press
conference
at
Schiphol
airport
directly
after
Johan’s
arrival,
Gerard
Spong,
who
has
led
the
legal
defense
team
since
the
beginning,
told
reporters
there
will
certainly
be
a
claim
for
damages,
“with
a
lot
of
zeros.”

Johan’s
lawyers
started
a
summary
procedure
to
demand
he
is
taken
to
hospital,
because
of
his
bad
health.
During
the
proceedings
on
January
17,
they
read
a
note
that
Van
Laarhoven
wrote
from
his
Dutch
prison
cell:


“My
detention
in
Thailand
has
completely
destroyed
my
life.
I
am
not
well,
I
can’t
get
my
thoughts
together.
I’m
sick
of
the
fact
that
I
have
only
seen
my
wife
in
court
in
the
past
five
and
a
half
years.
My
detention
has
broken
me
psychologically.
This
was
not
an
accident,
this
was
done
on
purpose.”

For
more
details
on
the
Van
Laarhoven
case
read
Leafly’s
original
article,

Cannabis
coffeeshop
pioneer
asks
Dutch
king
for
rescue
.



 
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Derrick Bergman's Bio Image

Derrick
Bergman

Derrick
Bergman
is
a
Dutch
journalist,
photographer,
and
activist
who
has
been
covering
cannabis
culture
since
1994.
He
is
a
founder
and
the
current
chairman
of
the
VOC,
the
union
for
the
abolition
of
cannabis
prohibition.
Since
2010,
he’s
served
as
the
coordinator
of
Cannabis
Liberation
Day,
the
biggest
cannabis
and
hemp
event
in
the
Netherlands.
He
is
a
father
to
three
sons
and
has
been
growing
his
own
cannabis
for
more
than
two
decades.

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