Niels van der Laan has a great deal of experience with technically complex transnational litigations. He has acted as lawyer in many high-profile prosecutions and investigations pertaining to (among others) corruption, embezzlement, market abuse, money laundering and tax fraud. His clients are (senior management of) publicly traded companies, banks, trust offices, and other companies in the financial and private sector. Niels advises on both criminal defence strategies and criminal liability risks.
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.
I started my career at De Roos & Pen in 2004, where I became a partner in 2010. In the first few years, I worked in the general criminal practice. This experience provided me with a great deal of courtroom skills, which I am thankful to use to this day. Soon afterwards I specialised in white-collar crime. My work has a focus on cross-border investigations, as a part of which I have been active as a legal adviser to various (foreign) companies and individuals for many years.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO A CAREER IN WHITE-COLLAR CRIME INVESTIGATIONS?
The challenge. White-collar investigations are generally more complex than other types of investigations and as a result as a lawyer one can make a big difference. It is a rewarding effort to fully comprehend the different complex international structures, and by putting in the time and the effort, one can often keep a step ahead of the prosecution. Furthermore, there is often a great deal at stake. Both companies and management often have their reputation on the line, which they have carefully built up over the years. You therefore do not only require knowledge of the law; you also need business insight and the determination and expertise to constantly balance all the relevant interests.
HOW HAS THE LEGAL MARKET CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED PRACTISING?
We were one of the first boutique firms focusing on white-collar crime. Large firms in the Netherlands were not yet active in this field, and often did not even want to be associated with the practice of criminal law, which was something they (wrongfully) deemed ignoble. The large firms have now changed their outlook on criminal law completely. Another large change in the market is due to the ever-growing specialisation of the Dutch Public Prosecution Office (PPO) towards large-scale white-collar investigations. Previously, investigations into white-collar crime were largely ad hoc. Now, white-collar investigations are often steered by policy. In addition, the VimpelCom case, in which I represented an individual, turned out to be something of a game changer for the Dutch white-collar practice. This case, in which the PPO worked side-by-side with its US counterparts, made the PPO realise the many benefits of using the American model. We are now increasingly starting to see the PPO start investigations of large companies, with the aim of making the companies perform their own internal investigations and using the results of those investigations to negotiate large settlements.
HOW IS PUBLIC OPINION CHANGING WITH RESPECT TO MAJOR WHITE-COLLAR CRIME PROCEEDINGS IN YOUR JURISDICTION?
Public opinion is mainly influenced by the manner in which the PPO puts out press releases about high-profile white-collar cases. What we see is that the PPO is continuously trying to criminalise white-collar suspects by emphasising the urgency of fighting white-collar crime and pushing the narrative that there exists a criminal underworld that is slowly seeping into the business world. However, the PPO is only succeeding in pushing this narrative to a limited extent because many highly publicised white-collar prosecutions have recently led to acquittals.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES YOU FACE WHEN CONDUCTING MULTI-JURISDICTIONAL WHITE-COLLAR CRIME INVESTIGATIONS?
The main challenge is often posed by the sometimes large cultural differences that we encounter during an investigation. For example, although most jurisdictions have somewhat similar ideas regarding lawyer–client privilege, the way the rules are applied in practice differ wildly in the various jurisdictions where the investigations take place. Another example is the extremely different ways in which the investigators expect a suspect or witness to be prepped by lawyers before an interview. Whereas US investigators expect a suspect or witness from upper management to have received and studied the documents underlying the suspicion beforehand, Dutch investigators like their interviewees to attend their interviews with as little (documentary) preparation as possible.
HOW DOES DE ROOS & PEN DISTINGUISH ITSELF FROM THE COMPETITION?
We are a leaner firm that, thanks to years of experience in the field, can act quickly in the interests of our clients. We can swiftly assemble a team able to assist large companies in complex international investigations, but we can also provide one-on-one legal assistance to individuals. We will always look at the specific needs of the case and the client before we go all out. Because of our niche character, we are able to provide individual care and assistance at competitive rates.