Willem Holleeder’s conviction for ordering liquidations, attempted murder, serious assault and participation in a criminal organization can be upheld. This also applies to the life sentence imposed by the court. The Advocate General advised the Supreme Court on Tuesday. The advice is explained here.
Willem Holleeder’s lawyer asked the Supreme Court to quash the conviction in his case. She contests the court’s ruling on several points, including the court’s decision on the so-called legality of the key witness agreements, the reliability of the statements of the key witnesses, the suspect’s sisters, the suspect’s ex-girlfriend and the imposition of life imprisonment.
The cassation concerns the court’s rejection of the position taken by the defense on appeal, that only the promise of a reduced sentence to witnesses would be legally permitted.
The other commitments to potential key witnesses would not be ‘lawful’. This concerns the commitment to refrain from deprivation of unlawfully obtained benefits (reap them, CS), to disguised financial rewards in the form of protective measures, and a deficient judicial review, because the agreements on protection have not been assessed by the court.
According to the Advocate General, the court’s ruling ‘has not deviated from the line set out by the Supreme Court in the Passage Trial regarding witness protection agreements made, with the same key witnesses who play a role in the case against the suspect.’
As far as the AG is concerned, the Supreme Court’s principles on this point do not need to be revised. ‘A judgment of the European Court that was delivered after the Passage judgment does not change this either. For that reason, according to the AG, this so-called cassation complaint does not succeed.’
Evidence of guilt
When it comes to the reliability of the statements of key witnesses, the suspect’s sisters, and the suspect’s ex-girlfriend Willem Holleeder: the court found that the very extensive file against the suspect contains a lot of evidence that proves his guilt.
That evidence includes statements from witnesses who heard from the suspect himself what he did, but also key witnesses who were themselves involved in the execution of the suspect’s murder orders.
According to the court, the audio recordings in which the suspect, without knowing that he was being recorded, confesses to some of the facts are also important: ‘The court has done a lot of research into the reliability of the witnesses and into the possible role of others in the murders. According to the court, this investigation has confirmed the reliability of incriminating witnesses, especially because support has been found in other evidence. The investigation has not yielded any indications that anyone other than the suspect is behind the murders.’
The Advocate General believes that the court in this case was able to rule that the parts of the statements of all these witnesses, which were used in evidence, are reliable.
The court imposed a life sentence. ‘When imposing the sentence, the court took into account the cold and unscrupulous way in which the suspect, together with others in a criminal organization, decided on life and death. According to the court, his choices were motivated by financial motives or to ensure that someone else could not take revenge on him or talk to the police. The court still asked itself whether the imposition of a life sentence would constitute inhuman punishment that is contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR. The court ruled that this was not the case, given the Supreme Court’s ruling of April 23, 2019 in the Passage trial, in which life sentences were also imposed.’
The AG is of the opinion that the cassation complaints in this case are not new. ‘In its rulings in the Passage case, in response to virtually the same complaints, the Supreme Court ruled that the imposition of a life sentence is not contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR. Subsequently, similar complaints in cassation in other cases were also rejected by the Supreme Court.’
The AG therefore believes that the court could impose a life sentence in this case and that the court has provided sufficient reasons for this. ‘The AG also notes that this would be different if it were established that a life sentence is de facto never shortened. That would be important in answering the question of whether a life sentence is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.’
The AG advises the Supreme Court to reject the cassation appeal. ‘She is of the opinion that the questions about the crown witness arrangement have already been extensively discussed by the Supreme Court in the ruling in the Passage case.’
‘The case law of the European Court does not lead to a different outcome. The complaint about life imprisonment also contains no new arguments. It is therefore not necessary to answer these questions when assessing the complaints.’
The Supreme Court’s ruling has been provisionally set for January 9, 2024.