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Groningen strives to become first Dutch cigarette smoke free city

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Lobby groups, local government sports clubs, schools and health experts have launched a campaign to make Groningen the Netherlands first smoke-free city.

The project, partly developed by addiction specialist Robert van de Graaf, aims to end smoking in more places throughout the city, including hospitals, playgrounds and schools.

‘Second hand smoke is dangerous but so is seeing people smoke,’ Van der Graaf told broadcaster NOS. ‘We often don’t realise that children can become addicted by seeing others smoke because they think it is normal behaviour.’

Around 25% of the Dutch population currently smokes and 810,000 children grow up in a family with at least one smoking adult, Van der Graaf says.

From this summer smoking will be banned through Groningen’s university buildings and the teaching hospital will be completely smoke from from 2019.

The organisations supporting the move signed the covenant to ensure children grow up in a smoke free environment in April. (DutchNews)

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The Netherlands is world’s biggest conduit to offshore tax havens: research

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is the biggest conduit to offshore tax havens in the world, with almost a quarter of fiscal constructions having a Dutch link, according to researchers at a specialist unit at the University of Amsterdam.

‘Only five big countries act as conduit-OFCs,’ the researchers from Corpnet said in a new report. ‘Together these five conduits channel 47% of corporate offshore investment from tax havens, according to the data we analysed.’

The two biggest conduits by far are the Netherlands (23%) and the United Kingdom (14%), followed by Switzerland (6%), Singapore (2%) and Ireland (1%). The researchers set out to identify countries or jurisdictions that play a role in corporate ownership chains incommensurate with the size of their domestic economies.

‘Our results show that offshore finance is not the exclusive business of exotic small islands far away. Countries such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom play a crucial yet previously hidden role as conduits of offshore finance on its way to tax havens,’ the researchers said.

Networks

They analysed the global network of ownership relationships, with information about over 98 million firms, differentiating between 24 ‘sink-OFCs’ which attract and retain foreign capital such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands and five ‘conduit-OFCs’ like the Netherlands.

Although most of the tax havens were as to be expected, Taiwan was a surprise entrant on the list, the researchers said. ‘We find a clear geographical specialisation in the offshore financial network,’ the report said.

‘The Netherlands is the conduit between European companies and Luxembourg. The United Kingdom is the conduit between European countries and former members of the British Empire, such as Hong Kong, Jersey, Guernsey or Bermuda.’

The researchers hope their findings will enable regulators working to end tax evasion target the policy to the sectors and territories where the offshore activity concentrates. ‘While efforts usually focus on small exotic islands, we showed that the main sinks of corporate ownership chains are highly developed countries which have signed numerous tax treaty agreements,’ the report said. (DutchNews)

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Rotterdam port may miss the boat in new trade with China

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Rotterdam port authority, backed by the Dutch government, must invest much more in logistics to and from China and the rest of southest Asia.

Otherwise, Europe’s largest port may ‘miss the boat’ and become isolated, warns a report by leading German consultancy Roland Berger. ‘The new Silk Route is a long-term project in which the Chinese government is investing billions.

Wages are increasing in China, so jobs are moving to Vietnam and Bangladesh. As a result new logistics streams are developing,’ Shanghai-based port expert Dennis Dupoux was quoted as saying in the Telegraaf on Friday.

The position of the Netherlands as a global trading power is under increasing pressure. Therefore Rotterdam and The Hague should invest in support stations in Asia with customs facilities to ensure the goods keep moving through, said Arnoud van der Sloot of Roland Berger.

But Rotterdam port director Allard Castelein sees nothing in what he terms a reversed Silk Road to China. ‘We are going on with our position as the most accessible deep-water seaport in Europe for goods destined for the European hinterland.

China is building up its own European infrastructure, spending some $20bn in buying up ports including Piraeus in Greece. The Chinese are also considering having their own terminal in Hamburg.

Rold Berger said Rotterdam runs the risk of becoming isolated in this manner.

Strong first half

Rotterdam booked a record 238 million tonnes of international ocean-going goods transport in the first half of 2017, 4% more than in the year-earlier period.

Container numbers shot up by 10%. Castelein said multi-billion investments in the port have been announced. ‘That’s a sign that the business community continues to believe in Rotterdam,’ he said. (DutchNews)

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Don’t eat garden veg, toxicologist tells Chemours plant locals

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – People living near the Chemours chemical factory in Dordrecht have been advised not to eat fruit or vegetables from their own gardens because the ground may be polluted, the Volkskrant said on Friday.

Toxicologists from Amsterdam’s VU University say the area around the Teflon factory is far more seriously contaminated with the toxic chemical GenX than had been believed.

The scientists reached their conclusions after analysing samples of soil and vegetable matter growing near the factory. They found the concentrations of GenX in the leaves of plants and the grass in a radius of more than a kilometre around the plant to be so high that there is a possible risk to public health.

The carcinogenic perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, also known as C8), which was used in to make Teflon prior to 2012, has also been found in plants and trees in far higher concentrations than expected.

‘Because grass and leaves die and are mown you would only expect to find low concentrations of PFOA concentrations after five years,’ toxicologist Jacob de Boer told the paper.

Vegetables

Martin van den Berg, a toxicologist at the University of Utrecht says people living near the plant should stop eating produce from their gardens and the government should carry out further analysis as soon as possible to find out how great the risk is to public health.

‘The poison is not only in the leaves but in the entire crop, because the plant also absorbs contaminated water through the roots,’ he told the Volkskrant. Last weekend the AD reported that GenX had been identified in tap water in at least six places in Zuid Holland province.

Permit

The company has a permit to pump 6,400 kilos of waste water containing GenX into the river. In April, the AD reported that officials want the permit changed to reduce the discharge to 2,000 kilos and then a stop altogether.

In May it emerged that blood tests on people living close to the former DuPont chemical plant showed that some have too much C8 in their blood. A Chemours spokesman told the paper that PFOA has not been used at the site in Dordrecht since 2012.

The company said ‘further calculations are needed to show that PFOA has been able to reach the grass and the leaves of trees from the earth and the ground water.’

(DutchNews)

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Dutch jihadi ‘bride’ no longer suspected of planning an attack

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A 21-year-old Dutch Muslim convert who escaped from Iraq with her two children should no longer be held in a high security jail pending her trial on terrorism charges, the public prosecution department said at a preliminary hearing on Thursday.

Laura Hansen, from Zoetermeer, has been held in the high security jail in Vught since last August, having fled via Kurdish territory with her two young children with the help of her father.

She claims she was tricked into going to Syria by her husband after the family left for what she believed was a holiday in Turkey and has since renounced Islam.

The public prosecution department earlier insisted she remain in custody while it completed its investigation, which included the possibility she was sent back to the Netherlands to carry out a terrorist attack.

The department no longer considers this to be an option, the department said in court. Judges will decide next week if Hansen should actually be released. (DutchNews)

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Dutch police take control of dark web market, monitor thousands of deals

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch police said on Thursday they have shut down and dismantled one of the biggest ‘illegal market places on the internet today’ after keeping it running for a month and recording thousands of transactions.

Hansa Market was the most popular dark market on the ‘anonymous’ part of the internet, or dark net, police said in a statement. The international investigation was carried out together with Europol, the FBI and the authorities in Germany and Lithuania.

This week a Dutch seller was arrested in Krimpen aan den Ijssel and his accounts, with some €2m in bitcoins were seized. Police say the winding up of Hansa Market is the final step in an undercover operation which began when Dutch police seized control of the illegal market place on June 20 after two of the site’s administrator were arrested in Germany.

The website was hosted on servers in Lithuania. Once the administrators were arrested, the servers and infrastructure were sequestered and transferred to Dutch servers, allowing the police and public prosecution department to monitor all trades.

Drugs

Most of the trades were involved drugs, police said. On average, 1,000 orders per day were placed in response to almost 40,000 advertisement sand more than 50,000 transactions have been monitored since the authorities took control of the website.

Some 10,000 foreign addresses of Hansa Market buyers were passed on to Europol and more than 500 Dutch delivery addresses were reported to couriers and postal services so they could halt deliveries, police said.

Dark net markets enable large-scale trading in chiefly illegal goods, such as drugs, weapons, child pornography, and ransom software. Well-known examples include Silk Road (taken down by the FBI in 2013) and Alpha Bay (reportedly shut down earlier this month).

The police said that the number of transactions processed through Hansa Market rose from 1,000 to 8,000 after Alpha Bay was dismantled. No weapons or child pornography were sold on Hansa Market. (DutchNews)

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Public prosecutor settles KPMG office tax evasion case

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The public prosecution department has reached deal with accountancy firm KPMG about a fine for tax evasion in relation to the construction of its current head office in Amstelveen.

KPMG has agreed to pay a fine of €8m on top of repayment of the tax that it failed to pay, the public prosecution department said in a statement. Five people connected to the case will also face legal action, the department said.

Two former KPMG executives, a civil-law notary, the property developer with whom KPMG did business at the time and an indirect shareholder of the property company will face trial and the case will start on October 3.

The case dates back to 2009 to 2011 when KPMG II – a joint venture between KPMG and the owner of the land – saved itself a major tax bill by effectively deducting the cost of the new office in one go, rather than in installments.

It was also one of the incidents which led to the resignation of the company’s chairman in 2014. (DutchNews)

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Cultural conflicts dog Air-France-KLM, straining alliance, says leaked report

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The 13-year-old alliance between national carriers KLM and Air France is fraught with difficulty and some officials have doubts about whether it can continue, broadcaster NOS said, quoting a company document.

The internal report on the management culture within Air France-KLM highlights the lack of trust between the airlines’ staff, NOS, which has a copy of the document, said.

‘One questions whether the alliance can survive given the long-standing mutual incomprehension between the Dutch and French camps within the group, one researcher was quoted in the Telegraaf as saying.

The 100-page report underscores the deep divisions between the two. For example. a KLM employee working in Paris is charged €10 for lunch, while an Air France colleague pays only €4 which is a minor irritation, he said.

But cultural differences – management methods and matters relating to authority – are more difficult to broach. The Dutch and the French do not understand each other, both want to be the dominant partner and do not put the group’s interests first, the report said.

The report was carried out on behalf of the central works council and involved a Dutch and French researcher interviewing 50 senior managers. The interviews show that Air France workers think the Dutch put their own interests first and do not consider the French.

By contrast, the KLM staff say that their interests are not properly respected by Air France. (DutchNews)

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All is well with the Dutch economy says the CBS statistics office

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch economy remained as healthy in mid-July as it was one month earlier according to its business cycle tracer, the national statistics office CBS said on Tuesday.

The CBS business cycle tracer (Conjunctuurklok) is a tool used to monitor the economic situation and economic developments. It uses a selection of 15 key macro-economic indicators, which – together – provide a coherent picture of the state of the economy at a particular moment in time.

These indicators have been issued in the past month or quarter. Consumer confidence was unchanged over the past month, but producer confidence increased along with order books.

Both consumer and producer confidence was above the average for the past few years, the CBS said. The volume of goods exports was 3.3% higher in May than in the year-earlier period.

The biggest increases were seen in the export of chemical and base metals as well as machinery. Gross domestic product was 0.4% higher in the first quarter of 2017 compared with the final quarter of 2016, according to revised figures by the CBS.

Growth was attributed largely to increased investment which was 3.2% higher in the first quarter of 2017. (DutchNews)

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52 unsolved crimes – all Dutch jail inmates to get a cold case calendar

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – All 30,000 people currently held in Dutch jails will soon have a new calendar to brighten up their cells – featuring 52 unsolved murders and disappearances.

The decision to hand out the calendars was taken after a trial in five jails in the north of the country, Dutch police confirmed on Tuesday ‘Of course there are people who don’t want a calendar and who don’t want to be seen as a snitch,’ the calendar’s inventor Jeroen Hammer said.

‘But our trial shows that almost two-thirds of prisoners think the calendar is a good idea.’ The calendar is part of a broader offensive to solve a number of cold cases, which are also being featured on the police website and highlighted in television crime shows, he said.

The trial in the first five months of the year resulted in 160 tips, the same number as are usually made in a full year, police say.

Re-opened

Almost half of them related to the 20-year-old murder of Nicky Verstappen which has received widespread police attention this year. Nevertheless, two of the cases featured on the calendar have been re-opened following tip-offs, Hamer said, but declined to give further details.

The calendar, which has been printed in Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, Russian and English, also includes information about how to make a tip off. The accompanying video also states that €800,000 in reward money is available for the people giving successful hints. (DutchNews)

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