MAASTRICHT. Two Maastricht University researchers, professor Leon Schurgers and professor Cees Vermeer (the latter has by now retired) have apparently enriched themselves through the university subsidiary company VitaK. De Limburger and De Groene Amsterdammer in collaboration with the Investico platform reported elaborately on this news at the end of June. André Postema, former vice president of Maastricht University, is supposed to have known of the fraud. As a result of the publication, the present Executive Board is carrying out a fact-finding investigation.
Set up in 2001, the VitaK company, headed by biochemist Cees Vermeer, emerged as a knowledge and research centre in the field of vitamin K. Leon Schurgers had done a work placement with Vermeer, did his PhD with him, and was regarded as his intended successor.
But in 2008, Vermeer became aware of fraudulent payments to Schurgers. He had apparently received 70 thousand euro on his bank account from the Norwegian pharmaceutical company NattoPharma, VitaK's largest client at the time. Apparently, fake invoices had been sent from a non-existent company. Vermeer reported the matter by e-mail to his boss, Jan Cobbenhagen, who was director of Universiteit Maastricht Holding at the time: “I know I should actually fire Leon immediately,” says the e-mail, published by the De Groene. Nevertheless, Vermeer backs his heir-apparent. Schurgers is not fired, he does not receive a fine and no police report is filed. De Groene: “The greatest punishment is that his researcher [Schurgers] may never become the managing director of VitaK.” Schurgers is transferred to the faculty. A transfer that only actually occurred in January 2011. He was appointed professor at the UM on 1 December 2017.
But the matter is even more appalling, according to the research journalists. Patents were apparently passed on to Schurgers, earning him a hefty sum later on.
Then there is the bonus of half a million euro that was given to Vermeer. He received this after his retirement; with the aid of the university, he misled the pension fund.
De Groene writes that several VitaK employees reported to the present Executive Board and the supervisory board. The Executive Board rejected the complaints. According to spokesperson Gert van Doorn, the first reports were made a year ago, he says in answer to questions by Observant.
The matter is currently being investigated. The Executive Board, after “analysis” and possibly its own additional investigation, will come forward with a “clear opinion”, said Van Doorn. When this will be, he cannot say.
Eleven days after Schurgers was inaugurated as professor, VitaK was declared bankrupt (on 23 October 2018).