Two years ago, the Panama Papers exposed a former Aruba official for taking bribes. On Friday, he pleaded guilty to laundering millions in a kickback scheme with Miami mobile-phone vendors.
Egbert Koolman, 49, a Dutch citizen who was living under the radar in Hialeah, admitted that he pocketed $1.3 million in bribes to steer $45 million worth of Aruba government phone contracts to about 10 companies in Miami and elsewhere. Some of his purchases were second-hand phones that were unknowingly infected with porn.
Koolman faces up to eight years on his money-laundering conspiracy conviction but could receive less time if he provides valuable information to the feds on the corruption investigation stretching from South Florida to the Caribbean nation.
Koolman directed the scheme for a decade as the products manager for Aruba's state-owned telecommunications company, Setar, until his firing in 2016, federal prosecutors in Miami said.
That year, Setar discovered the fraud when Koolman’s name popped up in a list of offshore company owners published online as part of the Panama Papers exposé. The leak of 11.5 million secret documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca laid bare a parallel offshore financial system accessible only to the rich and well-connected — one that is shockingly easy for fraudsters to abuse, anti-corruption experts say.
And documents included in the Panama Papers database — shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with the Miami Herald and its parent company, McClatchy — show that Koolman set up an anonymous offshore company in the British Virgin Islands and used it to open two bank accounts in Panama.
Documents filed with his guilty plea in Miami federal court reveal that Koolman received hundreds of thousands of dollars from local mobile-phone vendors wired to those Panama accounts.
A Miami businessman used those accounts as well as bank cards to pay $705,000 in bribes to Koolman in exchange for $23.8 million in mobile-phone orders from Setar. In December, Lawrence W. Parker Jr., who owned five companies that did business with Setar, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and commit wire fraud. He faces up to five years in prison at the end of April.
A lawsuit filed last year in Miami by Setar accused Koolman of routing bribes from Parker and other vendors through his offshore firm and bank accounts in Panama. He spent the money on renovations for his house in Aruba, including pool repairs and solar panels, the lawsuit claims. Other funds were used to buy his son a pickup truck and pay rent and other expenses for his former mistress.
The suit is seeking damages not only from Koolman but also his ex-wife and the company’s former suppliers, including Parker, based on allegations of bribery, bid-rigging, fraud and racketeering violations.
In addition, some of the phones bought by Koolman were faulty and included built-in “pornography applications,” much to the embarrassment of his employer, the suit states.
Setar’s attorney credited the Panama Papers with outing the former Setar products manager.
“Amazingly, were it not for the recent Panama Papers disclosure, this illicit conduct could have continued on unchecked indefinitely,” said Setar’s Miami-based attorney, Benton Curtis, with the law firm Broad and Cassel.
After Koolman’s name surfaced in the Panama Papers, Setar managers confronted Koolman and conducted an internal audit, leading to his firing.