Belfast Telegraph

Businessman caught using pram to shoplift Irish stores once posed as a Spanish Duke and tried to 'snitch' on the Dutch Hell's Angels

By Cathal McMahon

A businessman jailed last week for shoplifting ‘to order’ had previously posed as a Spanish Duke and pretended to be state witness against the Dutch Hell’s Angels in a series of crimes, it can be revealed.

Anthonie Van Wilderoden (44) was jailed in Dublin for a professional shoplifting scheme where he stole high value household goods to order.

The Circuit Criminal Court heard that he used an improvised buggy to steal the high-end items which he then sold on the Donedeal website to unsuspecting customers.

But now it can be revealed that Van Wilderoden has a long and chequered history as a fraudster in central Europe.

It has emerged that Van Wideroden:

  • Previously acted as a state witness against members of a Dutch motorbike gang but the case collapsed when it emerged that he had fabricated his entire testimony;
     
  • Was admitted into the Dutch witness protection programme where he changed his surname and began calling himself the Duke of Aragon
     
  • Arranged to marry a French-trained chef in a lavish ceremony but was arrested on the morning before his wedding after it emerged that he hadn't paid the contractors;
     
  • Moved to Co Wicklow with his wife but following a split he carried out a spate of robberies across the country;
     
  • Now looks set to be the subject of a major European movie.

This week Van Wilderoden is getting settled into his new surroundings at Mountjoy prison. Jail will seem quite familiar for the Dutch conman who has 19 previous convictions across the continent.

But if you were to meet him you could be mistaken for thinking he was a high-flying businessman.

Dutch journalist Jos Verkuijlen, who has followed the case for Omroep Brabant, explained: "I saw Anthonie as a well dressed man. He was very polite and very believable. I can understand he fooled a noble family and the justice department in his past."

Born Anthonie de Bruin, the Dutchman claimed he was sexually abused as a child and became a male prostitute in his teens.

At Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last week evidence was heard that he saved the money from this to set up his first business but that he was “a person who is totally incapable of handling money”.

De Bruin had a taste for the expensive lifestyle and the first reports of his alleged frauds started to emerge around 2005. According to Mr Verkuijlen, De Bruin pretended to be a millionaire and ordered expensive things.

"He fooled the most luxurious restaurants and helicopter rental companies," the journalist explained.

It wasn’t long before the law-enforcement agencies caught up with him and he was jailed.

Around the same time three members of The Nomads, a Dutch version of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang, were murdered.

Authorities suspected that members of the same gang were responsible for the killings but they had no clear way of proving this. Enter Anthonie De Bruin.

He claimed to have had long conversations in prison with the prime suspect in the case and he wrote detailed descriptions of these in his diary.

The authorities thought that the case was sown up but they hit a pretty serious snag when it emerged that De Bruin had fabricated the entire thing.

The case collapsed and now the justice department were left with the headache of what to do with the fantasist ‘jailhouse snitch’.

Although he had lied to him they felt compelled to put him into witness protection and he was given the new name of Anthonie Van Wilderoden (sometimes spelled Van Wilderode).

Sometime between then and 2010 he used forged documents to change his name again, this time choosing Anthonie van Wilderoden d’Aragon. He claimed to be of old Spanish nobility and in the papers he claimed to be an earl. But in public he referred to himself as a duke.

He resurfaced in November 2009 when he asked Tara Elliott - a French trained chef born in Belfast and raised in Dublin - to marry him. His taste for the expensive lifestyle hadn’t receded and, according to reports, he proposed to Ms Elliott with a platinum ring encrusted with 108 diamonds.

The pair had a civil ceremony on April 15, 2010 in Bruges, Belgium and two months later they were planning to have the official wedding. No expense would be spared.

According to reports it was due to be one of the largest weddings in the history of the state - as big as the marriage of Dutch King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima.

The ceremony was going to be in the basilica of Oudenbosch - a replica of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome - and some 250 guests were invited. Dozens of bouquets of flowers were ordered with Dutch and Belgian musicians arranged for the event.

Afterwards guests were to be invited to a large dinner and party in the former royal Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn. The dinner was going to be made by one of the most famous cooks in The Netherlands.

If it all seemed too good to be true, then that’s because it was. Van Wilderoden had not paid a number of the suppliers who had become concerned and contacted police.

The groom-to-be was arrested on the day before the wedding, just as the couple were putting the finishing touches to the ceremony.

It was discovered that there was an outstanding warrant against him for time not served and the wedding was cancelled, leaving the bride’s father to pay the massive bills.

Van Wilderoden was tried for the wedding fraud a year later. Prosecutors asked for a  2½-year sentence. Most of the case took place behind closed doors to protect his safety - he was still in the witness protection programme. Instead, he got just a year for forgery.

Afterwards the Dutch authorities lost track of him until he popped up again in Co Wicklow.

His wife had travelled to Ireland to set up an edible insect company called Eddiebug with the help of a government loan. The company sold insects as a speciality foodstuff. Van Wilderoden followed her here.

Although it was claimed in court that Van Wilderoden was involved with the firm his wife completely denies it.

She told Independent.ie: "Anthonie Van Wilderoden (sometimes spelt Wilderode, Antonie de Bruin, Marc-Anthonie van Wilderoden d'Aragon,  or any other names he may have operated under) is not, and never has been,  involved in any aspect of Eddiebug, which is at an embryonic stage of development.

"Tara Elliott (Eddiebug founder and owner) is the estranged wife of Mark Anthonie Van Wilderoden."

Van Wilderoden is listed as the director of a chocolate making company in Wicklow.

In court evidence was heard that he began his shoplifting enterprise because had built up heavy debt and his by now estranged wife had gone to America with his children leaving him with no way to support himself.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard he would put up advertisements on the Donedeal website selling household products. He would then steal these products from shops depending on the interest in the ad. None of the buyers knew the goods were stolen.

A source, familiar with the case, said Van Wilderoden used a modified Bugaboo baby's pram to steal the high-value items from stores like Arnotts, Curries and Harvey Norman.

He was spotted on CCTV cameras in stores across the country before he was eventually caught by an eagle-eyed security guard in Arnotts, Dublin in 2015. The security worker became suspicious when he spotted the Dutch man wheeling a pram with no baby inside.

In court evidence was heard that the guard stopped the Van Wilderoden and found crockery sets and a coffee maker inside. The pram had been modified with bungee cords to hold down the goods.

Van Wilderoden was arrested and admitted taking the goods but said they were presents for his wife's birthday. He allowed gardaí search his car where they found goods stolen from other stores such as a high-end food mixer and a broadband modem.

Gardaí also found two pages with goods listed on it. Van Wilderoden admitted this was a “shopping list” which he used to keep track of what to steal. He admitted to putting advertisements online and stealing the goods to order.

He was released on bail and two months later was caught stealing the handbag from Brown Thomas. On this occasion gardaí searched his house and found three stolen mirrors.

Van Wilderoden was again released on bail and later entered an early guilty plea. However, he then fled to Belgium before his sentence date. He was arrested on a European Arrest Warrant and returned to Ireland in November 2016.

Sources said that the Belgian authorities were “more than happy” to help gardaí out with the case.

Last week Judge Cormac Quinn imposed a sentence of two years - suspending the last six months.

A source, who was once close to the conman, said he will be lonely behind bars: "I'm sure he is very lonely without a friend in the world, apart from his two sons in the Netherlands no one will be visiting him in prison."

His life and crimes now look set to be documented in a movie called Basilica.

A source said: "This movie will be a hit but, in order to do this fellow justice, it would need to be a trilogy."

Mr Verkuijlen likened it to the Leonardo di Caprio and Tom Hanks classic. "It will be like Catch me if you Can... only this guy keeps getting caught."

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