Dutch minister quits as old scandal claims fourth scalp

2 min

The Hague (AFP)

Dutch Justice Minister Aard van der Steur resigned Thursday as an old scandal over 2.1 million euros paid by prosecutors to a drug baron returned to haunt Prime Minister Mark Rutte's ruling party.

"I'm handing in my resignation to his Majesty the King (Willem-Alexander). Thank you," an emotional Van der Steur said after a six-hour grilling by opposition parties.

Van der Steur is the fourth high-profile parliamentarian from the Liberal VVD party to resign since March 2015, in a move that could damage the premier's bid for re-election in general elections now less than seven weeks away.

The controversy involves a deal by former VVD deputy justice minister Fred Teeven 17 years ago with a notorious trafficker called Cees H.

The criminal was paid back millions of guilders (euros) -- previously seized in an investigation -- through bank accounts in Luxembourg without tax authorities being informed in 2001.

The authorities unable to prove the money seized was linked to drug trafficking and so most of it was returned to Cees H.

In March 2015, both Teeven, then deputy justice minister and his boss, Ivo Opstelten resigned after they were called out by parliament for not releasing the amount involved in the deal: 4.7 million guilders (2.1 million euros).

In December, Lower House Speaker Anouchka van Miltenburg also resigned after opposition parties accused her too of withholding information.

On Thursday evening, Van der Steur was next to face the wrath of opposition MPs, who sniffed an opportunity to take a stab at Rutte's ruling party before some 12.6 million voters flock to the polls on March 15.

A forlorn-looking Van der Steur fended off accusations that he too deliberately kept the amount from lawmakers at the time of Teeven and Opstelten's resignation to protect his VVD cabinet colleagues.

MPs said Van der Steur advised Opstelten not to disclose the amount in an explanation letter send to parliament at the time.

"Because of your intervention the figures were omitted from the answer. You should have simply informed the Lower House," far-right politician Geert Wilders told Van der Steur.

"Instead you made fools of us," said Wilders, who is currently leading opinion polls on an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim ticket.

Van der Steur admitted he should have never been involved in advising Opstelten, but vehemently denied wrongdoing.

"I came to defend myself against these accusations which are unfounded and not based on facts," he said before stepping down and rushing out of parliament in a blaze of flashing cameras.