Campaigning also generates money. Since the foundation of Farmers Defense Force, the web shop of the interest group has sold three tons of merchandise. Remarkable: all those payments went to the private company of the foreman, Mark van den Oever. A dubious construction, experts say. Van den Oever says that he neatly transfers the profit to the foundation.
Caps, posters, clogs: the Farmers Defense Force webshop is doing good business. ‘Support our farmers!’ appears above any product touted on the site. In reality, payments go to one farm: Van den Oever VOF, the fruit growing company of the well-known foreman of Farmers Defense Force. This is nowhere to be found on the site. It contains only the name of the association and the foundation. Receipts and invoices are also sent on behalf of Farmers Defense Force. Only the name of the payment account and a Chamber of Commerce number on an invoice show who actually receives the money.
A strange construction, experts say to BNR. However, the FDF chairman says that the design has been chosen to relieve the foundation and the association. The webshop has to pay sales tax and that bookkeeping is a lot of work, according to Van den Oever. “We’re pretty thin and nobody felt like doing that. So I just left that in my company.’
At the end of the year, his VOF transfers any profit to the foundation, says Van den Oever. That is why Van den Oever’s name is not mentioned on the invoice. “Then it would seem like it’s my personal gain and it isn’t.”
‘No open card’
BNR presented the construction to three experts in the field of tax investigation and fraud. Claims expert Jan Joling speaks of ‘a strange state of affairs.’ ‘If you buy something somewhere, the money should go to the seller. If there is an account in between, that is not correct. It’s very simple.’
Peter van Leusden, former FIOD detective, now fraud expert at Partner in Compliance, is also critical. ‘A rather mysterious set-up’, says Van Leusden. ‘If he had been open about this on the website, he would have played open card. Now it seems like something is being kept hidden.’
Mariëlle Boezelman, partner at Hertoghs Advocaten, is the most sympathetic. ‘It is certainly right to ask questions about this,’ says Boezelman. ‘But there may be agreements between the foundation and the VOF’
Van den Oever transferred 54,000 euros to FDF
That is indeed the case, says Van den Oever. “I will refund the profits in full at the end of the year.” Three printouts of bank statements show that he transferred about 48,000 euros to the foundation in 2020. The amounts subsequently decreased: from 4,000 euros in 2021 to less than 2,000 euros this year.
According to Van den Oever, this is because sales in the webshop show a variable course. ‘Depends on how many campaigns we take’, he says. When FDF is in the news a lot, sales of the merchandise shoot up, only to fall again.
Legally, the issue is close. Farmers Defense Force is registered with the Chamber of Commerce as a foundation and as an association. Both legal forms may only develop commercial activities as long as they benefit their social goals. They may therefore not be employed by a third, private company.
Three tons of turnover, but ‘we earn little from it’
The Farmers Defense Force web shop has been in existence for just under three years and, according to Van den Oever, has generated about three hundred thousand euros in turnover in that period. The site regularly renews its product line and therefore likes to respond to current events.
For example, license plate holders with the FDF logo (€12.50 each) have recently been sold, a nod to the registration requirement for tractors that came into effect in June and made it easier to fine demonstrators. A poster with a photo of nitrogen minister Christianne van der Wal (€9.95) was previously added to the range.
The margins on the products seem generous. For example, the FDF jackets (€59.95 – €74.95, sold out in all sizes) are available elsewhere for less than half the money. According to Van den Oever, however, the site is not very profitable. ‘There are also things ordered from the board, banners that we hand out and such.’ In addition, there are costs for maintenance of the site, office costs and ‘clothing for the entire organization’.
Farmers Defense Force also raises money through online collections. The most recent collection would have raised around €65,000 to pay ‘fines and legal costs’. Unlike the proceeds from the webshop, this money does go to a bank account in the name of the foundation.
Among the donors are well-known names from the agricultural sector, such as a subsidiary of the VanDrie Group, owned by the Quote-500 family of the same name, which also lobbies against nitrogen policy in The Hague.