AMSTERDAM - "Their ambition was to become the greatest food-service company in the world," said Dutch prosecutor Hendrick Jan Biemond last week as he read from a statement presented to the court explaining Ahold's corporate climate under former Chief Executive Officer Cees van der Hoeven.
Moments later Biemond requested prison sentences of 20 months for van der Hoeven and former Chief Financial Officer Michiel Meurs in their civil trial here. Prosecutors are seeking a lesser term of 12 months for former audit committee chair Roland Fahlin and former board member Jan Andreae.
Van der Hoeven is charged with having direct knowledge and falsification of documents related to Ahold's consolidation rights for certain joint ventures, mainly in South America and Scandinavia.
Meurs is charged with being an accomplice and bearing a large part of the responsibility by proceeding with drafting control letters sent to accounting firm Deloitte and Touche for auditing purposes.
Last month an investigative report, requested by Dutch shareholders, suggested Meurs had "sole responsibility" for keeping side letters from partners that contested Ahold's control secret from Deloitte and Touche. The report is not valid as evidence in this criminal trial, however.
Jan Arent van der Poel, a Dutch university professor and joint-venture consolidation expert, last week presented his conclusions to the court, saying, "the defendants had a corporate responsibility to know what the accountants are doing."
He explained that while Ahold maintained legal operational control over its joint ventures, it exercised illegal de facto control - in other words, exercising power without legal or official establishment of its 50% owned controlled stakes.
The public prosecution team, led by Biemond and Anita van Dis, spent eight hours listing charges against the defendants on the 11th day of the trial last week. Ahold itself is not charged.
Dutch prosecutors on Tuesday presented samples of actual copies of letters via slide show magnifying the falsified signatures and demonstrating how the fraudulent signatures were created.
Ahold, through an international multibillion-dollar shopping spree, took over at least 50 acquisitions during Van der Hoeven's leadership. Ahold's reputation as a model company was scathed when the company made public overstatement of accounts of $1.2 billion in February 2003.
Ahold reached a legal settlement with U.S. shareholders and the Dutch Association of Shareholders, after bringing to light their accounting irregularities going back five years, mostly related to its U.S. Foodservice subsidiary.