Business quarrels Willem Blijdorp is a media-shy, but celebrated entrepreneur
who is widely praised for his business successes. A trail of lawsuits and ruined
ex-business partners tell a different story. "I feel business-like murdered by
'I am a farmer's son from the Noordoostpolder.' On 20 November 2021, near-billionaire and entrepreneur
Willem Blijdorp will start his speech in the auditorium of Nyenrode, visibly uncomfortable in the red-gold
cape that he will be given as a brand new honorary doctor.
The ceremony is part of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the 'Business University' in Breukelen.
The eulogy on the 69-year-old trader in duty-free articles comes from Kitty Koelemeijer. She is professor
of Marketing at Nyenrode and supervisory director of Blijdorp's listed trading house B&S Group.
Koelemeijer tells the approximately two hundred attendees about the "extraordinary achievements" of
Blijdorp as an entrepreneur and how important "sharing success, philanthropy and benevolence" is to
In the acceptance speech, Blijdorp outlines how his trading house B&S Group, listed on the stock exchange
since 2018, has an annual turnover of around 2 billion euros. Customers from all over the world, from the
U.S. government to China's Alibaba, order what they need from B&S, from spirits to consumer electronics.
He also has a edifying message: "There is a moral obligation to make something of it together, to keep
everyone involved. I am the figurehead of B&S, but in the end it's all about treating each other fairly."
These are fine words from the media-shy and virtually unknown entrepreneur to the general public – a
man with a nose for business, who makes deals everywhere, sees trade and dares to take big risks.
Nrc published at the beginning of this year about a business conflict that got out of hand in Blijdorp, in
which tens of millions are at stake. In recent weeks, the newspaper further investigated the past of the
duty-free entrepreneur and traced a large number of lawsuits, disappointed and destitute former business
partners and allegations (and reports) of theft, intimidation and threats. They tell the story of a man with
two faces, who quotes less experienced entrepreneurs and then mercilessly discards them – and runs off
with their business and goods.
After his studies at the Hotel School in Maastricht, Willem Blijdorp and fellow student Jacques Streng
found a job at the Groningen shipping company Kamstra in the mid-seventies. It organises the popular
Butterfahrten from Eemshaven: boat trips outside territorial waters, where Dutch and German customers stock up on duty-free goods en masse. First it concerns butter (hence: Butterfahrt), later mainly drinks,
cigarettes, perfumes and shampoos.
Blijdorp and Streng quickly make a career and take over the shipping company after a few years. Streng
takes care of the boats, Blijdorp focuses on the purchase of luxury goods. This puts him in lucrative 'parallel
trade', the import and export of branded goods that are marketed much cheaper in one country than in
another. In the Groningen Farmsum, Blijdorp has sheds and a transhipment centre built for this purpose.
Business is going well, and Blijdorp has been investing in real estate since the late seventies – including in
prostitution buildings in the groningen city centre, according to cadastral deeds. Het Nieuwsblad van het
Noorden describes him in 1982 as one of the two "most important pawnbrokers in the Groninger
Nieuwstad" – the place where window prostitution is concentrated.
Business is going well, and Blijdorp has been investing in real estate since the late seventies – including in prostitution properties in the city centre of Groningen.
The reason for the attention is a conflict about the renovation of a prostitution building of Blijdorp and a
business partner. On the ground floor, "bathing areas and beds surrounded by mirrors took shape, while
the six elderly and two students above try to observe hygiene in a shower room that is usually only found
on old overcrowded campsites", writes het Nieuwsblad.
In 1987, a business partner says in the same newspaper that he owned 37 tendon chambers in Groningen,
but did not elaborate on Blijdorp's importance. Blijdorp holds his interests in prostitution premises until
2010. During that period, he is also a shareholder in companies that trade in DVDs. Two of them, the erotic
mail order company Solidare from Emmen and the Butterfly Erotic Club, figured between 1999 and 2006
in dozens of lawsuits of customers who feel that their unjustly expensive subscriptions have been sold.
Trade then dries up, but the companies still exist.
Blijdorp spends most of his time on international trade, in cigarettes, for example, which he brings over
from Eastern Europe to his transhipment centre in Farmsum. There is a hint of fraud around the business.
For example, in the early nineties the name of one of his companies appears in Czech court documents
about cigarette smuggling and payment of bribes to a local customs officer. Blijdorp's company escapes
criminal prosecution and only receives an additional levy.
In 1995, the Dutch investigation service FIOD invaded the warehouses of Blijdorp, where eighty people
worked. One of the suspicions: evasion of excise duties on tobacco products. The case is dropped and
Blijdorp continues to build his empire. Blijdorp, who explains to the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden that he
mainly trades in "semi-excise goods", turns his company into a wholesaler in the nineties. The sale of taxfree
items to consumers has had the longest time due to European unification. The same goes for the
Butterfahrten, with which he amassed his first fortune.
After the turn of the millennium, Blijdorp is building a new flagship. Thanks to mergers and acquisitions,
his B&S Group (named after Blijdorp and Streng) is growing into a large, international trading house,
which will go public on the Amsterdam stock exchange in March 2018. Blijdorp owned (and owns) approximately 70 percent of the shares – an interest that (depending on the share price) is worth
several hundred million euros. Co-name giver Streng is no longer in the company.
Import Iranian marble
Outside of his listed company, Blijdorp is always looking for opportunities, say people who have worked
closely with him. Such as the import of Iranian marble, which NRC reported on in January. In 2015, the
media-shy tax-free entrepreneur stepped into the exploitation of nine Iranian marble quarries, together
with 34-year-old Iranian-Dutch Danial Mahyari. Blijdorp lends Mahyari around 70 million euros to acquire
the licenses for the quarries.
The licenses and the loans would end up in a joint company, from the profit Mahyari Blijdorp had to pay
off. Things turn out differently: the duo gets into a heated argument and Blijdorp puts his young partner
under pressure to hand over the licenses to him. As a result, Mahyari would be left with a debt of millions,
but without grooves. If Mahyari refuses, Blijdorp reports a scam. The Public Prosecution Service picks up
the case and raids Mahyari's home in December 2019.
Read here the research story about Willem Blijdorp and the marble import: How a
dream deal about Iranian marble degenerated into a mud fight
The case is explosive for both men. For Mahyari because of the ongoing criminal investigation, for Blijdorp
because of Mahyari's accusation that he – among other things through a smear campaign – has put the
Public Prosecution Service in front of his cart. Blijdorp denies that in all keys.
After the publication about the marble shop, various former business partners of Blijdorp NRC call and
email. They recognize the story of Mahyari, who confidently embarks on the adventure and embraces
Blijdorp as a financier, shareholder and teacher. They also recognize the sequel: the brutal collision with
Blijdorp, who then tries to appropriate the valuable assets of the joint venture by creating financial
One of the men approaching NRC is 48-year-old Rotterdammer Martin Nateghi, who with his family
business Metco supplied shower and bath products to, among others, retail chain Action. He met Blijdorp
in Spain in 2008 and built up a good relationship with the B&S boss. "Blijdorp often came to me, was
always curious about my work," says Nateghi. "I trusted him completely. I didn't realize at the time how
close our trade was to his, and that he saw me as a competitor."
I trusted Blijdorp completely. I didn't realize at the time how
close our trade was to his, and that he saw me as a competitor.
Martin Nateghi owner Metco
In March 2014, Nateghi wants to buy out one of his financiers. He approaches Blijdorp to take over his
interest. For example, Blijdorp acquires half of the shares in Metco. After that, the relationship between
the two men changes. Blijdorp tells Nateghi in increasingly urgent terms that Metco is in dire straits and
that he can better have his family business run by two people from Blijdorp.
When Nateghi refuses to make way, he gets into trouble at the end of 2016 with his house bank, Deutsche
Bank, which suddenly does not want to renew its loans. Blijdorp – who boasts that the CEO of Deutsche Bank Nederland is a 'good friend' of his – has sent the bank an email in which he suggests that Metco has
committed forgery. The bank cancels the loans and confiscates all stocks.
"Then it became clear what Blijdorp was after," says Nateghi. "He made a deal to buy Deutsche Bank's
inventories, for half the market value." Metco can no longer do business without stocks and financing.
"After that, Blijdorp also had me declared bankrupt," says Nateghi.
Nateghi does win one lawsuit: in mid-2020, the judge ruled that Blijdorp's email with allegations to
Deutsche Bank had a "rather speculative basis". That judgment gives Nateghi good chances to recover
damages from Blijdorp through the courts, but his money has run out. Now he awaits his moment.
He is not the only loser in the Metco case. Nrc also reports Raj Janardhan from Dubai, who has been in
international trade for forty years – first with multinationals such as Unilever and Colgate, then
independently. Metco was one of its best customers for six years, but that changed from the moment
Nateghi met Blijdorp, says Janardhan. "Willem seemed like a nice guy. During dinners in Dubai and
Amsterdam, I told great stories about expanding and how I could also supply his other companies."
When things go wrong between Nateghi and Blijdorp, Janardhan discovers the other side of the B&S
foreman. "What Blijdorp has done at Nateghi, I have never experienced," he says. "Normal people with
business conflicts buy each other out, fight it out in court or take their loss. But Blijdorp started a vendetta
against Nateghi. He destroyed his life, for no reason."
Blijdorp started a vendetta against Nathegi and destroyed his life, for no reason
Raj Janardhan trader who worked with Willem Blijdorp
Janardhan himself is also introduced to the business morality of Blijdorp. He had 494 pallets of shower
cream in the Dutch warehouses that Deutsche Bank had seized. Blijdorp did not want to release them,
not even when Janardhan went to a Dutch bailiff to secure the goods (value: almost 300,000 euros).
Instead, Blijdorp had the pallets removed from the warehouse. The police, Janardhan says, did not want
to act. "They called it a business dispute." Janardhan, tired and fearful of rising lawyer's fees, gave up the
fight. "Pure theft", he calls blijdorp's performance.
Conflict with Jack Daniels
Janardhan could have been warned, say people who have known Blijdorp for some time. They point to a
conflict between Blijdorp and whisky producer Jack Daniels over 20,000 bottles of whisky. Salient in this
matter is a declaration by a Groningen bailiff, who on 12 April 1999 wants to seize the whisky stored in
Blijdorp's warehouses in Farmsum on behalf of Jack Daniels. The producer suspects Blijdorp of reselling
the cheaper tax-free bottles with a big profit to Dutch liquor stores. Jack Daniels does not want A-brand
bottles to come on the market like this and therefore has them seized.
When the bailiff arrives at Steenweg 17 in Farmsum, Willem Blijdorp is waiting for him. He threatens "with
violence", as a result of which the bailiff has to flee, according to the declaration. When the bailiff returned
with police later that evening, says lawyer Paul Reeskamp, who has been counsel for Jack Daniels for
twenty years, "just saw how the bottles of whiskey were taken away in large trucks."
Where traders such as Nateghi and Janardhan did not pursue their case against Blijdorp, the whisky giant
did have the money and patience to litigate for a long time. That paid off: at the beginning of 2020, after
two decades of litigation, two subsidiaries of B&S were sentenced to infringement of Jack Daniels'
trademark rights and compensation for some 1.5 million euros in damages, plus twenty years of interest.
Another case that continues to haunt Blijdorp is the one around the Zuiddijk marina in Zaandam, which
has been his property since 2011. Previously, the marina near the North Sea Canal was in the hands of
criminals through companies in Gibraltar and Belize. That changes when Blijdorp takes over the port from
Rogé van de Weg, a convicted bankruptcy fraudster from the north of the Netherlands. According to the
papers, Blijdorp pays about 1.3 million euros, but that will never be on the table. It is crossed out against
claims that Blijdorp would have had on Van de Weg.
He later goes bankrupt and ends up in prison for fraud. His curator, Arie Brink from Leeuwarden, has been
trying to recover the 1.3 million from Blijdorp for years now. Once, around the IPO of B&S in 2018, he is
close to a comparison. But once the trading house has the stock exchange listing, the settlement will not
go through anyway. "I feel like I've been kept on a leash," Brink says. "Probably because Blijdorp did not
want to have any legal disputes around the IPO."
Franck Peyrard also feels "business murdered" by Blijdorp. The wine merchant from Lozanne, just above
Lyon, is looking for revenge – but his resources have been exhausted after his battle with the Dutch
In 2013, Peyrard teamed up with Blijdorp to jointly realize Escale Grands Vins, a retail chain for exclusive
wines and champagnes. This should be a separate sales channel for private individuals, in addition to
Peyrard's flourishing wholesale business – of which Blijdorp has been half owner since 2011 through a
French B&S subsidiary. But shortly after Blijdorp and Peyrard set up the retail chain, Blijdorp demands
that his partner deliver his chic products to the French hypermarchés. If Peyrard refuses, the Dutchman
"turned into the devil", says the Frenchman.
Peyrard tells how he was then financially driven into the corner by Blijdorp and gave up his shares to the
Groninger under pressure. A week later, four Dutch trucks and a number of haulers suddenly appear at
the door, local newspapers from that time report. The entire wine warehouse is loaded, after which Escale
Grands Vins goes bankrupt.
Bigger and more unpredictable
Conflicts with (former) business partners, long-running lawsuits, accusations of fraud – Blijdorp is used to
something in his long entrepreneurial history. But the last case he ended up in, against marble
entrepreneur Danial Mahyari, is different: bigger, more complicated and more unpredictable.
Unlike entrepreneurs such as Janardhan, Peyrard and Nateghi, the young Iranian-Dutch marble merchant
does have the time and the means to resist. Assisted by a small army of lawyers, Mahyari has conducted
dozens of legal proceedings in recent years – also against Willem Blijdorp. Mahyari's lawyers use
information about the B&S boss's past in their proceedings, in the hope of showing that there is a pattern
in Blijdorp's behavior.
It is questionable whether that matters for Mahyari's case, but blijdorp's disillusioned ex-business
partners are in any case happy that his history is being turned upside down. And that they are not the only ones who feel taken in by the B&S foreman. They are also hopeful: now that there is light shining on
this side of Blijdorp, they see for the first time a chance, however small, of justice. Because sooner or later,
says wine merchant Franck Peyrard, everyone has to be accountable. "Also Willem Blijdorp."
'DOES NOT RECOGNIZE ITSELF'
This article is based on court documents and legal files, cadastral data, information from the Chamber of
Commerce and similar foreign registers, public publications and conversations with data subjects. The
statements of the aggrieved entrepreneurs Nateghi, Janardhan and Peyrard have been verified as much
as possible on the basis of formal documents.
Willem Blijdorp says through his lawyers that he will not respond to a series of substantive questions
about incidents and quotes from former business partners described in this article. However, his lawyers
say that Blijdorp "does not recognize himself in the picture sketched of him".
What may play a role in this reaction is a series of ongoing legal proceedings between Willem Blijdorp
and Danial Mahyari, with 70 million euros from Blijdorp as a bet.