Arie van der Valk, who with his brother was the founder of the enormous Van der Valk group, was considered media shy. But during a major tax fraud trial in the mid-1990s, the Netherlands was suddenly able to get to know the entrepreneur extensively.

Arie van der Valk turned out to be a remarkable suspect. He never read annual accounts – learned from his father, he explained. Ben and Lukas van der Valk were his “dumbest two” sons. And if he could do something again? “Oh, maybe another wife, not ten children,” according to newspaper reports from that time.

On Friday, the Van der Valk family announced that Arie died in his hometown of Voorschoten at the age of 94. Van der Valk, together with his brother Gerrit, expanded the hotel and restaurant chain into one of the largest catering groups in the Netherlands. It is thanks to the two brothers that it is almost impossible to drive along the highway without encountering the characteristic toucan somewhere, the chain’s logo.

Arie van der Valk was born into a family of twelve children. His father, Martien van der Valk, laid the foundation for the current concern by taking over several poorly performing hotel-restaurants. But it was Arie and his brother Gerrit who saw the motel concept in the United States as a gap in the market and brought it to the Netherlands from the 1950s: close to highways, that became the strategy.

They opened their own businesses, instead of just making acquisitions. Their original goal: a hotel for each of their children, seventeen in total. Sometimes they were only told shortly in advance where they were going to live, Gerrit kept an eye on where a business became available. And then report to financial man Arie every year. That really stimulated the competitive spirit between the children, he noted NRC in 2018: everyone wanted to be the best.

Children can rinse glasses

The Van der Valk family grew together with the chain through this strategy. The large families lived in the hotels. The men were directors of branches, but everyone worked together, from women to young children: if the children can stand, they can also wash glasses, was Martien van der Valk’s adage.

Arie himself had an office in the first branch in Voorschoten, De Gouden Leeuw, where he also housed the central purchasing organization. In 1956 the brothers took over the Avifauna bird park, after which the toucan became the symbol of Van der Valk. That seemed to Gerrit and Arie a better idea than a falcon, because of the association it could evoke with Nazi Germany.

Things went wrong in the 1990s. The FIOD discovered that Van der Valk committed tax fraud and raided various branches in 1994. Turnovers are said to have been kept artificially low and premiums not paid. Arie reported himself to the police and was in pre-trial detention for three days. This was followed by a months-long fraud trial in which he played a leading role as a financial man.

During the hearings, Arie tried to convey that he knew nothing about anything and that each of his children ran their own establishment. “Everyone takes care of their own business and must do that job well. I never go there. How can I lead them?” At the same time, he admitted that he sometimes stopped supplying branches if they were not doing well financially.

Blunt and muddled

Journalists at the hearing were surprised by the blunt and confused attitude of Van der Valk, who was 65 at the time. He threw his two sons Ben and Lukas under the bus. To a question he replied: “That doesn’t mean anything to me, I should check that, but I don’t.” After a court hearing, Van der Valk told a cousin with whom he had an argument that it was “just about the money.”

Initially, Van der Valk was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence and the entire company received a fine of millions. On appeal, only the fine remained. The group also paid 213 million euros to the tax authorities.

The issue would eventually lead to the company being split up. The complicated structure full of family members, cash flows and private companies could no longer be justified. At the instigation of the in-house lawyer, nine branches, so-called ‘strikes’, were established.

Arie’s role was therefore partly played out. But the Voorschoten branch, owned by Arie and his sons, would remain the most ambitious and continue to build many hotels. This regularly led to disagreements with other branches: it is no secret that the various Van der Valk parts sometimes fought each other in court. This mainly concerned new branches that were said to be too close to existing locations. There are now more than a hundred Van der Valk hotels, including in the Netherlands Antilles, Germany and the United States.

Gerrit van der Valk died in 2009, and Arie’s son Lukas took his own life last year. Little was known about Arie, who had an estimated fortune of several hundred million euros, in his last years. Grandson Steve said against in 2018 NRC that his grandfather in Voorschoten at the Gouden Leeuw still liked to sit at his desk counting the money in the cash register until he was old.


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