PARIS – A Dutchman dubbed the ‘horror dentist’ by French media went on trial Tuesday, facing charges of intentional violence and fraud.
Dentist Jacobus Van Nierop, who was arrested in New Brunswick in 2014 after fleeing France, could be sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $413,000 if convicted. More than 50 victims are also seeking damages.
Scores of people came forward with complaints ranging from multiple healthy teeth removed, pieces of tools left in teeth, abscesses, recurrent infections and misshapen mouths between 2009 and 2013.
His trial in the central-eastern town of Nevers is expected to last until March 18, with a ruling expected later.
One patient, Sylviane Boulesteix, has said she was unexpectedly summoned to his dental office in May 2012. Without warning, the dentist pulled eight of her teeth out and immediately fixed dentures on her raw gums. For three hours, the elderly woman says she sat gushing blood.
In the following days, she says Van Nierop refused to relieve her pain. A judicial expert later described a “cruel and perverse” man whose incompetence made Boulesteix lose several healthy teeth, go through a trauma and suffer irreversible damage to her mouth.
Van Nierop has said he remembers only one of the 75 patients who allegedly suffered “mutilations” or “permanent disabilities” at his hands between 2009 and 2013, according to court documents. He now has to face many of them in court.
“I dread the moment where I’ll see him again because it won’t be any longer the 100 kilograms rugby man who was smiling at us with disregard,” Nicole Martin, president of a victim association, told The Associated Press on the eve of the trial.
Van Nierop, who used the assumed first name Mark with his patients, refused to answer questions during the investigation, saying only that the oral health of people in the region was “deplorable.”
He claims he was suffering from a borderline personality disorder, complicated with a transgender issue and suicide attempts.
Van Nierop entered Canada on Dec. 18, 2013, with the plan of meeting up with a woman he’d met online, despite being under conditions not to leave France.
That relationship ended by the following May, but van Nierop remained in Canada beyond the time he was permitted, partly because he had no financial means to leave.
According to a statement of facts in his Canadian extradition case, the RCMP went looking for van Nierop after receiving a complaint and determining he was the subject of an Interpol notice.
He was located on Labour Day 2014 in an apartment in Nackawic, west of Fredericton.
A woman answered the door, but van Nierop was locked in a bathroom. The statement of facts says that when officers decided to enter, they found that van Nierop had tried to commit suicide.
In a strange twist, van Nierop told a 2014 hearing in Shediac, N.B., he thought he was being held in connection with the murder of his wife in the Netherlands in 2006. That piece of information caught both the Canada Border Services Agency and the commissioner hearing the case off guard.
He was ordered extradited to the Netherlands and then deported to France.
Detained in a French prison since January 2015, he staged several hunger and thirst strikes, and once swallowed razor blades before he was to be questioned by the investigating judge.
Questioned about the alleged mutilations suffered by his patients, van Neirop said: “It does not affect me.”
“I’m totally blocked from the inside and I don’t want to explain it all,” he told the investigating judge, according to court documents. “You can lock me up for years … it will not change.”
The dentist had been welcomed by local people when he opened his office in 2008 in Chateau-Chinon, a small town located in a remote part of the Burgundy region with a status of a “medical desertification area.”
Investigators said Van Nierop provided false documents to be allowed to practice dentistry in France, gaining tax and economic benefits, and concealed that he was the subject of disciplinary proceedings in his own country.
He allegedly overcharged his patients, billed them for imaginary dental care or intentionally did bad work which required further appointments and payments, according to court documents.
Van Nierop, who lived in a luxurious home outside the town, had debts of nearly 1 million euros, officials said.
Catherine Gaschka in Nevers, and Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal contributed to this report