Funding body accounts drained as former Dutch art fund finance chief vanishes
Ex-employee subject of international police hunt
By Lucian Harris. Web only
Published online: 01 July 2009
The former head of finance for the Dutch national arts funding body, the Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (BKVB), is the subject of an international police hunt after the discovery that he had siphoned around €15.5m from the organisation’s accounts.
The fraud was discovered after suspicions were raised at the Raiffeisen-Landesbank bank in the small Tyrolean ski resort of Waidring in Austria when three men, reportedly of German origin, attempted to withdraw €450,000. The account was traced to Clemens Kahmann, named only as Clemens K. in the Dutch press, who had served as head of finance at the BKVB since 2000, and before that had held a similar position at the Mondrian Foundation, Holland’s other main cultural funding organisation. The account was found to contain €10m, the result of 203 deposits of €50,000 made between 2 February and 3 March. The sum of €50,000 was the maximum allowed to be given out in each artist subsidy at the BKVB.
An investigation was immediately launched involving Dutch and Austrian police, federal authorities, and banks in both countries. However, such was his reputation as an honest and committed employee that while police considered the disbelief expressed by his colleagues, Kahmann gained enough time to take flight, apparently accompanied by his wife and children. His teenage daughter had told friends of a planned move to Russia, however, it has been widely reported that he is believed to be in Thailand.
On police advice the fraud was not made public until the story broke in the Austrian press on 15 May. Since then official statements have given only the most basic outline of events with much subsequent information emerging through uncredited police sources. A spokesperson for the fund denied that any more could have been done to prevent the fraud. “Accountants supervised the work of K. There were never any indications of irregularities,” he said, also stressing that the fraud would have no effect on future funding for artists.
On 2 June, in response to a question in the Dutch parliament, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science, who is responsible for BKVB funding, said that as soon as the fraud was discovered there had been immediate consultation with the Board of the Fund and all possible measures had been taken to prevent further damage. A total of €15.5m had been transferred to different accounts at home and abroad, with €12m recovered and actions to retrieve the remaining funds (€3.5m) were already underway, he said.
The veracity of some of this information had already been questioned by Dutch newspaper Dagblad De Limburger which claimed to have seen papers showing that rather than the stated sum of €15.5m, the BKVB was in fact making a claim for around €22m, a sum close to its annual budget. This would make the amount still untraced considerably more than the €3.5m widely reported. The newspaper also claimed the BKVB, which is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Education, had sequestered Kahmann’s Amsterdam house.
Furthermore it seems clear that Kahmann was not working alone and the investigation soon uncovered a web of transactions that, according to Austrian police, linked the fraud to organised crime and international money laundering. A payment of €2m was made from the Raiffeisen-Landesbank account to a debt advisor named as Albert W. in the town of Kerkrade in the Dutch province of Limburg. Subsequently sums of €10,000, €13,000 and €29,000 were paid from the same account to three other persons. In a police interview Mr W. is said to have denied any relationship with Kahmann. However, police confirmed that he remained a suspect in the case.
An international warrant is reported to have been issued for the arrest of Kahmann although at time of writing, his name could not be found on Interpol’s fugitive list.
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