Jonathan van der Linden is a former member of CGN, our sister church in the Netherlands. Over 2015 and 2016, he defrauded at least 5 million euros from the Dutch charity HMC, and then implemented a comprehensive plan to exploit both Norwegian and foreign media.
“A devilish plan”
During the trial in February 2022, it emerged that the fraud, which involved the use of false documents and signatures, had been carefully prepared over a long period of time, in what the public prosecutor described as “a devilish plan.” Already in the summer of 2020, van der Linden was sentenced to repay the entire amount with interest in a civil lawsuit.
As part of his defense, van der Linden tried to appear as a whistleblower at the time, but the judge rejected this argument and described van der Linden as “solely motivated by a desire to enrich himself.” The verdict in the civil case is final, and as far as BCC is aware, van der Linden has subsequently cooperated to return the money to the Dutch foundation.
The verdict that fell on 21 April 2022 was the conclusion of the criminal proceedings relating to the same case, i.e. fraud of more than 5 million euros, among other things. This criminal case has been ongoing since 2016.
A whole team actively contributed to NRK Brennpunkt and other media
Jonathan van der Linden was the main source for Guds utvalde (God’s elect), an episode in the Norwegian investigative documentary series NRK Brennpunkt, which was aired in the autumn of 2020. Documentation that has emerged in foreign legal proceedings shows how van der Linden provided the Brennpunkt journalists with alleged evidence, and prepared case presentations and angles for them. The documentation also shows how the NRK journalists actively asked van der Linden, who had been indicted on fraud charges, for help in countering BCC’s answers to their questions.
Together with van der Linden, the Dutchmen Ben van Wijhe and Oscar Floor were also active sources for Brennpunkt, largely based on explanations and source material provided by van der Linden, who has now been convicted. The two were also active in the preparation of questions addressed to witness Kåre J. Smith in the hearing of the criminal case against van der Linden, with the main focus on getting Smith to incriminate himself.
In the initial phase of NRK Brennpunkt’s work on the program, van der Linden’s lawyers were in contact with the Dutch foundation HMC. They informed HMC that van der Linden was in dialogue with a media company that was “larger than NRC Handelsblad,” and indicated that future negative media attention could be avoided if HMC would withdraw its charges and enter into a settlement with van der Linden in the civil lawsuit before the verdict was handed down. HMC naturally rejected any settlement on such premises, and van der Linden thus became NRK Brennpunkt’s main source.
Allegations and false information withdrawn
Following the crushing verdict in the civil case in the summer of 2020, van der Linden withdrew his allegations and admitted that the information he had given to NRK Brennpunkt and other mediasources was not reliable. Despite this, NRK Brennpunkt chose to publish its controversial documentary, which was mainly based on van der Linden’s account. After the documentary was aired, BCC submitted a complaint against the state TV channel NRK to PFU (the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission), and NRK was convicted of breaching the code of good press practice on two points.
Paid for the lawyer – and hoped to be compensated
Van der Linden has been represented in the criminal case by, among others, the Dutch top lawyer Aldo Verbruggen, who was hired not only to defend van der Linden, but also to prepare to file a report against BCC. As part of this, the questioning of witnesses Kåre J. Smith and Bernt Aksel Larsen was to be used to try to get them to incriminate themselves.
According to Ben van Wijhe, he himself took care of the payment to Aldo Verbruggen, which he estimates to have cost “almost 300 000 euros”. Ben Van Wijhe has, according to the Norwegian online media Medier24.no, admitted that he paid for the lawyer on the condition that he would be compensated if Aldo Verbruggen’s strategy resulted in van der Linden being allowed to keep some of the embezzled money.
Documentation BCC has gained access to shows that Aldo Verbruggen also investigated the possibilities of having BCC dissolved and declared an illegal organization. The very extensive media campaigns in NRC Handelsblad and Dagens Næringsliv and others, where BCC and church personages were the subject of outrageous false accusations, for example about child labor and that the church personages had “taken control of the church’s fortune worth billions,” were important tools in these processes.
In an unrelated case, Aldo Verbruggen is currently under investigation for breach of the ethical regulations for Dutch lawyers, including for having collaborated with one of the parties in a case where he was assigned to act as an independent third-party.
Planned an influence campaign
The offender Jonathan van der Linden, lawyer Aldo Verbruggen and collaborator Ben van Wijhe also met with the Israeli paramilitary organization Psy-Group in 2017. This is according to a memo, which appears to have been written by Psy-group in preparation for an influence campaign against BCC and church personages. In the document, Ben van Wijhe is described as their client. The narrative that appears in the document has striking similarities to the narrative in NRK Brennpunkt in several respects. NRK’s journalists had access to this document for more than half a year before their program was published.
But it was not the only thing they had from Psy-Group,
An unsigned contract to Ben van Wijhe from Psy-Group has also been published on nrk.no. The contract had dramatic content. The aim was to get the authorities to investigate and stop BCC’s activity, and the way it was to be done was to create a narrative about financial criminality and promote it through well-known mediasources.
A Psy-Group’s operation against BCC was later also substantiated through documents used in a Canadian lawsuit. Through a Norwegian lawyer and via the Norwegian media, Ben van Wijhe has repeatedly threatened BCC with lawsuits in connection with our publication of information about his connection to Psy-Group.
Serious threats, false allegations and extortion attempts against BCC and individuals
Shortly after Jonathan van der Linden was arrested in March 2016, BCC and several Dutch organizations became targets of threats and extortion attempts. The extortion claim was for 850,000 euros, and the threats were primarily that if no payment was made, harmful information would be leaked to the press. The name van der Linden is repeatedly mentioned in emails from the blackmailer.
Later, the threats became more serious, and included threats of physical violence. In the period before the NRK Brennpunkt episode was published, the threats became particularly intense and included, among other things, what could be perceived as bomb threats against places where BCC held conferences. The threats and extortion attempts were reported to the police, and in collaboration with the police, stricter security measures were implemented for BCC’s large gatherings in the period in question. Crude, defamatory articles were also published online, which affected both BCC and several individuals.
Blackmailer sentenced to prison
This activity lasted right until September 2021, when a Dutchman was arrested in Spain and charged for these actions. He is now in custody in the Netherlands.
BCC would like to emphasize that we have never seen any documentation or been presented with other information that actually shows that this individual has had anything to do with Jonathan van der Linden, beyond the individual’s own claims. Neither has BCC been able to confirm the man’s claim that he communicated with Ben van Wijhe and received information from him. On the other hand, documentation that BCC has gained access to shows that this person has been fed with information from people who want to destroy BCC’s reputation.
Among other things, this documentation includes previously unpublished information in connection with false allegations that Kåre J. Smith has an illegitimate child. This is a false rumor that Ben van Wijhe and Johan Velten, among others, have been strongly involved in, engaging a private investigator to find and contact the alleged child. Some of the allegations were published on a Dutch website run by the man now in custody, while others were sent to BCC with the threat of publication. BCC has cooperated with the police in their investigation.
False accusations led to an investigation
Jonathan van der Linden’s attempts to divert public attention away from his own criminal acts and to alleged reprehensible conditions in BCC, have resulted in a number of lengthy and resource-intensive processes. Allegations by van der Linden, as well as newspaper articles in Dagens Næringsliv in November 2016, which also used van der Linden as a source, formed the basis for a comprehensive investigation of Bernt Aksel Larsen, Kåre J. Smith and two other BCC members by Økokrim, the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime in Norway
The investigation lasted three years and included questioning of witnesses in several countries. Several thousand pages from van der Linden’s e-mail inbox were submitted as case documentation. The investigation resulted in a complete exoneration of all four suspects in March 2020.
However, this did not stop NRK Brennpunkt, which based its program on allegations by van der Linden – allegations that had just been thoroughly investigated and dismissed.
The offender is making amends; will the media do the same?
Jonathan van der Linden has admitted the facts for which he has now been convicted.
He has, as far as BCC understands, also taken responsibility for his actions, and has since the verdict in the civil lawsuit cooperated in returning the money he defrauded from HMC. BCC is pleased to take note of this attitude on his part and has no desire for future conflicts with van der Linden. This does not detract from the fact that his actions have not only had major consequences for the Dutch organizations he defrauded, but also for BCC, which he unjustifiably involved in the conflict.
On the other hand, it is a fact that van der Linden could not have caused much damage to BCC and the Dutch organizations without the uncritical participation of the media, including NRK Brennpunkt, Dagens Næringsliv, Tønsbergs Blad and NRC Handelsblad. It is nothing new for a criminal to try to put the blame on others, and in a well-functioning and enlightened democratic society he should have not been able to achieve much by doing so.
On the other hand, when large media companies wielding enormous power in society uncritically allow themselves to be used by people who clearly have vicarious motives, and then harass and campaign against religious minorities on a totally erroneous basis, there is reason to sound the alarm.
A media powerhouse like NRK Brennpunkt can very easily incite opinions based on “justified indignation” which cause most people, without having the slightest knowledge of the case, to pass judgment on minorities who stand out in society.
Thousands of children and young people in BCC have personally experienced the consequences of NRK Brennpunkt’s scornful portrayal of our religious community. Had NRK Brennpunkt and the other media involved carried out the usual basic source vetting and, not least, used some degree of healthy common sense, this would have been avoided.
Jonathan van der Linden has taken responsibility for his actions, and this is commendable. Will the media ever acknowledge responsibility for their share of the damage inflicted in this case? We can hardly count on it, but if they should reconsider, they are welcome to get in touch.