AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch justice minister and his state secretary resigned yesterday after acknowledging they misled parliament about the facts surrounding a settlement with a drug kingpin in 2001.
The resignations of the men, both members of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal party, weakens the Cabinet shortly before provincial elections on March 18 that have the potential to destabilize the ruling coalition.
“I have no choice but to respect their decision,” Rutte said. “The cabinet has lost two driven experts.”
The two politicians had told parliament that Cees Helman, a convicted drug lord, had been paid far less than the 4.7 million Dutch guilders he received, and that all records of the transaction had been lost. Both assertions were later found to be inaccurate.
State Secretary Fred Teeven, who was then a prosecutor, authorised the tax-free payment – now worth 2.1 million euros in – after authorities failed to prove that money confiscated from him by the state had been illegally obtained.
Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten previously testified that information about the transaction had been lost, but backtracked yesterday, saying it had now been found after all.
The two said the misinformation made their position untenable.
“This information could have been found earlier,” Opstelten said at a press conference. “I take full responsibility for this and have just now offered my resignation to the King.”
The resignations over the payment, which was politically sensitive but not illegal, add to tensions between the Liberals and their Labour coalition partners ahead of crucial provincial elections later this month.
Labour, which is lagging in the polls as voters apparently give the Liberals credit for a nascent economic recovery, has been fiercely critical of the pair.
Opstelten and Teeven were associated with the most conservative elements within Rutte’s party, which faces a challenge on the far right from Geert Wilders’ Freedom party, which is leading in polls.