Investigate Business Quarrel
A Dutch-Iranian entrepreneur from a village in North Holland and a Groningen multimillionaire join forces to exploit marble quarries in Iran. It seems like a golden deal – but then they get into a fight.
On Friday, December 1, 2017 at 3:23 PM, hundreds of Dutch journalists, entrepreneurs, bankers and investigating officers received an alarming message. It concerned a 'Global Security and Fraud Alert' from a completely unknown (and, as it turned out, completely made up) organization. This Global Advisory Board Middle East from London wanted to warn the world about the Dutch-Iranian marble trader Danial Mahyari. He and his brother were, according to the alarm message, forward posts of the Iranian regime and had adopted the lifestyle of criminals in the Netherlands. They were secured by intimidating ex-intelligence people, drove around in Ferraris and Maseratis, bought real estate as if they were playing monopoly, gambled for "a quarter of a million euros a night" at Holland Casino and threw birthday parties "in Dubai with prostitutes who usually pay a ton at a time." cost”.
ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
This article about the quarries in Iran is based on more than a hundred documents and conversations with a dozen people involved.
NRC drew on court documents and criminal files, written and digital correspondence, contracts and other business documents such as forecasts, sales orders, quotations, spreadsheets and financial estimates.
Audio recordings of conversations between various parties were also used.
The origin of their money, according to the report: millions of fraud. The man who was scammed: the Groningen multimillionaire Willem Blijdorp, founder and major shareholder of B&S Group
– a listed wholesaler for, among other things, drinks, medicines and cosmetics, which supplies duty-free shops at airports worldwide. Photos and videos of Mahyari's "extravaganza parties", lists of duped investors and information about "Iranian infiltration" in Europe were available on request, the mail concluded.
What seems like an exciting unmasking later turns out to be no more than one bizarre chapter in a completely derailed business conflict: between Danial Mahyari and Willem Blijdorp.
The stakes have not changed in all that time. The young Iranian-Dutchman and the 69-year-old businessman Blijdorp (according to Quote 'near-billionaire' with an estimated wealth of 925 million euros) compete for nine Iranian quarries, which are said to be worth hundreds of millions of euros.
A series of coincidences brought Danial Mahyari, from a North Holland village just above Amsterdam, to Tehran in 2010. His career as a businessman had only begun a year earlier—he was 22. With funding from the municipality of Alkmaar, he set up an online shop for contact lenses. Customers could take out a subscription to lenses and liquid for 15 euros per month. Mahyari bought the lenses in Singapore.
He sold the business a year later. With the remaining stock of contact lenses – which he was not allowed to sell in Europe or the US as part of the agreements with the new owners – he had a new plan. He remembered one place where they could use a batch of lenses: Iran, the country his mother had fled eighteen years earlier.
He could easily travel to Iran and spoke Farsi, albeit with a thick accent. That's how he started in Tehran, as a Dutch salesman in contact lenses. But he soon came into contact with all kinds of local entrepreneurs with export dreams, who saw in him a bridgehead to the European market.
His hired driver also knew a trade: whether Mahyari wouldn't even come and have a look in a marble factory? There, walking around huge halls with hundreds of tons of stones in the most beautiful colors, he becomes overcome by marble fever. When he flies back to the Netherlands a few days later, there is a very heavy suitcase with marble samples in the hold.
Iranian marble is extremely popular in Europe, partly because of its high quality. The offer is limited, because doing business with Tehran is virtually impossible due to the US sanctions against Iran. For example, it is complicated to transfer money to the country.
It is not illegal under European rules, but banks fear the long arm of the Americans. They do not hesitate to impose fines of hundreds of millions of euros if they catch a financial institution dealing with money with Iran.
Mahyari does not shy away from that. He makes one ruse after another to get money to Iran. A way is in cash. At Holland Casino he buys with his credit card stacks of chips that he later exchanges for 500 euro notes. They go to Iran, for payments.
In a few years time, the North Hollander developed into a specialist in money transfers to Iran. This always has to be done in a roundabout way. He pays for the study of Iranians abroad from the Netherlands, takes luxury Western cars and precious art objects to Tehran. In Iran, Mahyari receives rials in return, the Iranian currency, which he in turn uses for his marble trade.
Business is going well. Mahyari's company supplies stone for chic hotels in London and Vienna, and for exclusive villas of millionaires and royalty. The renowned architectural firm OMA is also a customer. Through this Rem Koolhaas office, Mahyari provides the marble for prestige projects such as the National Library of Qatar.
But in 2014, a threat looms. The papers are full of a possible nuclear deal between Iran and the international community. One after the other Western trade missions are exploring the possibilities in the country of 77 million inhabitants.
If that deal comes through, foreign investors will flood Iran. They will discover Mahyari's lucrative natural stone trade and push him away. Before that, he wants to get his hands on the mining rights for the quarries.
There is one problem: even cheap quarries in Iran cost more than Mahyari owns. Knocking at the bank for a multi-million dollar loan has no chance for the young Dutch-Iranian, he thinks. Especially for a project in Iran. He is looking for a private investor.
Mahyari crosses paths with Willem Blijdorp through a shared lawyer. The 62-year-old entrepreneur with Groningen roots, living in Switzerland, likes the marble adventure. And he wants to be more than the financier in the background. Blijdorp presents itself as Mahyari's business partner and teacher.
Soon the men trust each other blindly. The agreements they make on 17 June 2015 fit on an A4 sheet. Blijdorp privately lends Mahyari 21.5 million euros – without collateral and without a repayment arrangement. With the money Mahyari needs to licenses for buy quarries. The licenses and the loans must eventually end up in a private limited company, of which Blijdorp and Mahyari each own half. The plan is to pay off the loans with the profit from the BV. Less than a month later, Iran strikes a nuclear deal.
A few months later, the tax advisers of Blijdorp Mahyari shove a document under his nose during an inserted meeting. It describes him as a consultant who, for a fee of 150,000 euros, acquired quarries for a company of Blijdorp. At first, Mahyari has doubts. That's not how things are, are they partners? But Blijdorp convinces him that this construction is fiscally favorable. Mahyari draws.
At that time, an opportunity presented itself: now that the Iranian market is opening, serious parties are suddenly interested in buying the exploitation rights of the quarries. Its value is estimated at around 250 million euros. A spectacular deal is looming for Blijdorp and Mahyari: if it goes through, they would recoup the investment more than tenfold.
But on January 10, 2016, Blijdorp is serving the intermediaries in this deal. He calls their work "amateurish." Two days later, the mediators email back: "We are not suckers either and have too long and a good track record to just accept this qualification." The deal backfires.
We are going to remove the marble from the quarries ourselves, Blijdorp Mahyari says in an email. He brings in people from his company B&S Investments who will set up a new mining organization within a few months, Stone Trade International. The company – with a head office in Dubai and a sales office in China, where Iranian marble is also very popular – is wholly owned by Blijdorp.
The ambitions are high, as evidenced by spreadsheets of personnel costs and production forecasts.
Stone Trade orders advanced chainsaws, large wheel loaders and excavators, recruits staff and has a website built. Mahyari sits there and watches it. He feels left out, according to an email he sends to Blijdorp. “It is a crushing experience for team Blijdorp. […] Everyone sees you as the big boss and I'm going to be sidelined. […] My word and presence are worth as much as a shitting llama.”
Mahyari regularly asks about his share in Stone Trade. But Blijdorp avoids that conversation. The duty-free entrepreneur has other plans, it turns out a month later, when he meets with his protégé to formalize the agreements on the original A4 sheet.
The cooperation agreement states that Blijdorp will become the owner of the quarries, and that Mahyari will only receive shares in the company if he has paid off the millions of loans from Blijdorp. Mahyari also pledges all his possessions. If the income from their marble adventure is disappointing, Blijdorp can take over Mahyari's company for next to nothing. Mahyari emails Blijdorp that it is a "strangle contract" and refuses to sign.
Blijdorp writes back to him in annoyance: “Put your money where your mouth is, business people say. You don't really want to put your neck in the noose.”
Peeing in your own pants
Mahyari and Blijdorp exchange reproachful emails, but in the meantime continue to work together. The rights of the quarries are in Mahyari's name. And he knows the routes to get the money that Blijdorp lends to Iran. Despite the lifting of sanctions, payment transactions with Iran remain practically impossible.
On July 29, 2016, the bomb explodes. After a work meeting, Blijdorp asks Mahyari to sit down for a while. When the others are gone, he takes a pile of papers from his bag. It is the fourth version of the cooperation agreement. Paraphrases rapidly and Blijdorp signs the leaves. When he's done, he slides the stack to Mahyari. Or he wants to draw. No, says Mahyari, read first.
Mahyari immediately sees that a number of conditions that are unacceptable to him are still in the contract, and refuses to sign again. Then duty-free millionaire Blijdorp explodes.
Mahyari hears him screaming and roaring as he closes the door behind him. A day later, Blijdorp apologized by email: “When you immediately started with 'Look, it's not right, I'm being screwed', a fuse went through with me. Possibly wrong for that
Blijdorp's anger has not gone away, according to later reports. He finds Mahyari unreliable and writes that he has himself to blame for the conflict. “Peeing in your own pants is first hot and then cold,” he emails Mahyari. "You're scared, don't really dare. […] Do not beep if a little boy.”
For Mahyari, Blijdorp's actions add up: the contract that depicted him as a hired consultant, torpedoing the sale of the mines, sidelining Mahyari in setting up the mining organization. The North Hollander gets the feeling that the businessman he considers a teacher – and to whom he owes millions – wants to take the quarries.
The two men orbit each other for another nine months, just in a period when major investments are needed. Blijdorp continues to insist on signing the agreement, but eventually comes through with money. This is how the investments in Iran, and with it the debt of Mahyari, rapidly increasing to approximately 75 million euros.
The cooperation is so difficult that Mahyari forces a break in April 2017, according to email contact. Doing business together doesn't work, one of the two has to get out. Mahyari emails: „I let you choose. You said you don't want to continue so I have no choice but to pick things up.” That same day, Blijdorp confirms the split by email.
Mahyari immediately fired anyone who became involved in the mining operation through B&S, Blijdorp's company. He takes on new people at a rapid pace. One of them is Emad Moursy, a charming Egyptian with an impressive resume. He's gonna be head sale.
Blijdorp goes to court. In summary proceedings he demands that Mahyari transfer the licenses to him and still sign the agreement, but he does not get this done. According to the judge, that would put Mahyari "in a considerably more vulnerable position" than before on the A4 from June 2015 was agreed. The judge considers further negotiations between Blijdorp and Mahyari unnecessary. The breach of trust is established and 'After all, Blijdorp itself […] confirmed that the parties had the intention to part ways'. Mahyari and Blijdorp must make a repayment arrangement for the loan.
Mahyari has no time to enjoy his victory. There is a new problem.
Drugs, Weapons, Afghan
Emad Moursy is busy. The smooth-talking Egyptian Dutchman, who has just been working as a salesman for Danial Mahyari for a few months, calls one colleague after another in the week after the summary proceedings – with an incredible story.
"I'm a secret agent for the CIA," Moursy told Mahyari's staff. "My job is to warn you." Moursy describes Mahyari as a con man and blackmailer, a money launderer who deals in drugs with Afghan warlords and has contacts with the Iranian secret service. Mahyari is in serious financial trouble, his machinations will come true: the colleagues better leave the company before they are dragged into Mahyari's trap, Moursy said.
On December 1, 2017, two days after the preliminary relief judge ruled against Blijdorp, hundreds of Mahyari business contacts, journalists and investigating officers received an email from The Global Advisory Board Middle East (GABME).
The main victim of 'criminal' Mahyari is the Dutch entrepreneur Willem Blijdorp, the email emphasizes.
"I'm a secret agent for the CIA. My job is to warn you " -
Emad Moursy salesman for Danial Mahyari
Mahyari, besieged from all sides, chooses the attack. When he hears from one of his employees that Moursy was trumpeting exactly these stories prior to GABME's smear campaign, he immediately fires the Egyptian Dutchman and hires a detective agency to check his corridors. It may cost something: At the height of the investigation, Mahyari has 14 private detectives on the job.
They soon come up with images from which Mahyari deduces that Blijdorp has contact with Moursy. Such as a photo of Blijdorp's car near Moursy's house and a video in which the businessman can be seen in the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam with a partner of Moursy. However, Blijdorp's lawyers deny in all tones, to this day, that Blijdorp has anything to do with the smear campaign.
Against this background, Mahyari and Blijdorp sign the peace on 12 January 2018. They agree that Mahyari will transfer his debts and the mining licenses to a new company, which must repay the loans. If that doesn't work, Blijdorp can handle the case including licenses
taking over. They also make agreements about the aftermath of the GABME message. Mahyari promises not to recover the damage as a result of the smear campaign from Blijdorp. Blijdorp in turn agrees to leave Mahyari alone. He signs a statement saying that he has nothing to do with GABME, that there is "no basis whatsoever for these allegations", that Mahyari has not defrauded him and is a "hardworking, trustworthy businessman" that the dispute has been satisfactorily resolved and that he does not report
Mahyari has done.
But things don't work out anymore, between the business partners.
Meanwhile, the GABME campaign has not gone unnoticed. Business magazine Quote publishes a story about Mahyari's dealings, in which, in addition to criticism from anonymous sources and competitors, reference is also made to the "filthy" smear campaign of "obscure websites". If you google Mahyari's name, you will quickly find the article or the GABME site.
Mahyari's reputation seems shattered, until his private investigators force a breakthrough.
Boy Striker of the Arcani detective agency is on his way to an apartment in Scheveningen. It is late afternoon on January 23, 2019. In his taxi is an informant, Frank Engelsman – who has just done Striker's client Danial Mahyari a great service. Engelsman has told Striker that he and Emad Moursy have launched the smear campaign against Mahyari. But not only that. Engelsman is a man who records all his business conversations. And now all tapes of those conversations are in the hands of the lawyers from Mahyari.
That is why Boy Striker has arranged a temporary hiding place for the Engelsman. He's afraid of Moursy. Once in Scheveningen, Engelsman gets on the phone with an angry Moursy.
“Why did you do this? You've known me for ten years, I'm quite a hot-tempered man. I can tell you, I don't think I've ever been this angry." Engelsman must return to Amsterdam, Moursy demands, so that they can talk the matter out. ButEngelsman refuses, with trembling voice.
On the tapes, the men discuss the purpose of GABME. “Mass attention, worldwide,” says Moursy. They also discuss what a second website should look like, which counts down the days, hours and minutes until the article in Quote. Moursy: „So the website goes online. Beautiful… nicely made. Photos beautifully large. And then below that: Europe's largest scam exposed. Yes? And the day the article comes out, twelve pages, it goes to about two thousand addresses. One by one, with Mahyari in the bcc. Then he knows who has had it all.”
Engelsman has also provided private detective Striker with tapes in which he and Moursy have conversations with journalists from Quote. In those conversations, Moursy explains extensively that Willem Blijdorp has been defrauded by Mahyari and that the tax-free entrepreneur wants to damage Mahyari. And that a publication in Quote can help.
Engelsman's tapes provide enough ammunition to force Moursy on the defensive. When Moursy finally admits to being behind GABME, a judge forces him to hand over information about the smear campaign. After Mahyari Quote announces that it has indications that the magazine has been played by Moursy, the business magazine silently removes stories about Mahyari's marble business from its website. That is not because of the information from the Mahyari camp, Quote editor-in-chief Paul van Riessen now tells NRC. Why, he cannot say.
On December 11, 2019, a team of FIOD detectives raided Mahyari's businesses and home and confiscates his administration. Mahyari is in London at the time, flies back immediately and is also detained. He is suspected of fraud. He has to surrender his passports and is in detention for a month.
The FIOD has been investigating Mahyari since the end of 2017, following dozens of reports of suspicious financial transactions. The millions that Blijdorp transfers and then disappear towards Dubai, the purchase and sale of chips at Holland Casino, the expensive cars: according to the investigative service, everything points to a large-scale money laundering operation.
The criminal file shows that the investigation gains momentum when FIOD detectives start talking with Willem Blijdorp at the end of 2018 about the sum of 75 million that he transferred to Mahyari. Blijdorp refers them to two close associates of his. They know, he says, exactly what's going on. They were intensively involved in the mining adventure of the ruffs Blijdorp and Mahyari in 2015 and 2016, and received detailed statements of expenditure and income on a weekly basis. The duo tells the FIOD that Mahyari was the driving force behind the marble adventure and that they do not understand exactly what the Iranian mining licenses are like. Do they really exist, they wonder?
When the FIOD detectives present these statements to Blijdorp at the end of September 2019, the Groninger says that – despite his statement a year and a half earlier – he was cheated by Mahyari. He files a report and more than two months later the FIOD raids Mahyari.
Documents from the Public Prosecution Service show what the case is about from that moment on: the public prosecutor thinks that Mahyari did not spend the 75 million from Blijdorp on the purchase and exploitation of mines, but almost completely invested it in his own pocket. The Public Prosecution Service refers to the large flows of money to foreign accounts of Mahyari, shortly after the loans from Blijdorp, to the lack of bank transactions to Iran and to Mahyari's large expenditure on "art, gambling, the purchase of real estate and various luxury vehicles". .
Mahyari's defense - that it was all intended to get money to Iran, and that the mines were purchased and developed with that money - is not heard by the Public Prosecution Service.
Mahyari must first demonstrate this with documents, otherwise "the statement that no criminal offenses have been committed remains without foundation", the Public Prosecution Service writes to its lawyers.
The Amsterdam court decides in the summer of 2020 that Mahyari must get his passports back. The suspicions of the Public Prosecution Service are not strong enough at that time to justify that seizure: "It has been established that the suspect actually had nine
has purchased and (partially) exploited quarries.”
Mahyari, who then has a conversation recorded with Moursy in which the Egyptian Dutchman says that Blijdorp was his client and paid him 750,000 euros, will report to Blijdorp in the spring of 2020 for forgery, libel, slander, cheating and extortion. . But the Public Prosecution Service refuses to open an investigation. This is a civil case, a representative of the Public Prosecution Service explains to a judge who is discussing the decision to prosecute. The business conflict that Mahyari has with Blijdorp does not belong in criminal law. "If you borrow that much money, I think there is also an investigation obligation on you to investigate who you are doing business with," says the representative of the Public Prosecution Service.
The Public Prosecution Service says in a response that the investigation into Mahyari has been completed and that the Public Prosecution Service intends to proceed with a summons. A hearing date has not yet been set. Moursy's smear campaign leaves the Public Prosecution Service for what it is, just like the underlying business conflicts between Mahyari and Blijdorp. The civil court will have to decide that, according to the Public Prosecution Service.
Willem Blijdorp says through his lawyer that he "does not recognize the picture that is sketched in this article. He looks forward to the criminal case against Mahyari with confidence.”
According to Dian Brouwer, Mahyari's lawyer, 'Mr Blijdorp bought a criminal smear campaign ... to get rid of a business opponent, and – when this proved unsuccessful, manipulated a criminal investigation by deception in order to wrongfully convicted.”
According to Brouwer, the FIOD and the Public Prosecution Service 'were not sufficiently alert to the'
possibility that their research could be misused in this way.”
His client Mahyari, says Brouwer, 'is convinced that all the facts will be put on the table and that he will be cleared of all blame before a court hearing. There was no case, there is no case and it will not be a case.”
Emad Moursy's involvement further complicates matters. It is now established that the Egyptian plays a major role with his fake news campaign and firing, but he continues to raise smoke screens about his motives.
Moursy himself will in any case not solve the case, he says when he visits NRC in a turtleneck sweater and with three mobile phones in his pocket for an explanation.
He had to do some crazy tricks to stop Mahyari, he says. He did this on behalf of "the secret services", although he cannot say which one. The fact that he told Mahyari that Blijdorp directed him is only because Mahyari wanted to, Moursy now says. “The order certainly did not come from Blijdorp. I have never seen that man.”