Rutte, Teeven and the deal with a drug criminal

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, is being put to the test firmly by the opposition. He is questioned about the so-called “Teeven deal”, a financial deal that politician Fred Teeven, prosecutor at the time, closed with a drug criminal. People want to know what the prime minister knew about this. Univers asked Tilburg University professor Paul Frissen, professor of Public Administration, what Rutte should do now. “This is not like saying ‘sorry’ to a partner.”In 2000, Fred Teeven closed a deal with drug criminal Cees H., who was serving a prison sentence for leading a drug kartel. After years of legal wrangling about the confiscation of H.’s belongings, the State gave Cees H. 4,7 million gulden (the former Dutch currency) and kept 750.000 gulden as a fine. After that, the administration around this deal got lost, and almost nobody pays any attention to it anymore. In 2002, Minister of Justice Benk Korthals tells the chamber that there had been a deal, and that Cees H. owned around 2 million gulden at the time. If you consider the 750.000 gulden fine, this means that Cees H. received 1.25 million.

This number has been the official truth for years after that. Until March 2015, when news program Nieuwsuur retrieved the paperwork and revealed that in truth, the amount of money Cees H. got back from the State was much higher, around 5 million. In the political debate that followed, Minister of Justice Ivo Opstelten sticked to the 1.25 million. At that point, Fred Teeven was his State secretary. In the end, Teeven and Opstelten both left their position in the government because of this affair.

Saying ‘sorry’

On 9 December, a commission of inquiry published a very critical rapport about the Teevendeal. The deal was flawed and the way Opstelten and Teeven handled the situation also failed. They are both members of the VVD, prime minister Rutte’s political party. Right now, Rutte gets questioned about his role. What did he know and was he honest about it? In his public reactions, he defended his fellow VVD members and suggested there was more to the deal than we know right now.

“It is fine to say that the deal was made for good reasons,” says professor of Public Administration Paul Frissen. “But subsequently, politicians should be willing to admit that it did not work out the way it was supposed to. From what we have seen in the media, we can conclude that Rutte is primarily thinking about the interests of his party.” Several papers wrote that Rutte’s dictionary does not contain the word ‘sorry’. Frissen: “I think the word ‘sorry’ is too personal, it is not the same as apologizing to a partner. It is important for Rutte to establish the responsibility in this affair, and take it.”

Organized distrust

The way Rutte is responding fits his style, says Frissen. “He flees forward, saying that we do not know everything yet, or he makes something big very small. You can notice that he uses diminutives, when he spoke about the Royal family, for example, he spoke about a ‘little boat’.” A lot seems to have been covered up, and the way Rutte and the other politicians involved react to questions in the Second Chamber, feels forced, says Frissen. “If everything went the way it seems now, Rutte should just take the blame.”

What this does to the trust civilians have in politicians, is less important than the commission’s rapport and the media suggest, says Frissen. “The distrust in politicians is always there, and we have organized it in our system. That is what we call democracy. The people who have power are being checked by others. This system is not perfect, so if it goes wrong, the right people should take responsibility.” It is to be seen if the opposition is satisfied with Rutte’s explanation. With the upcoming Dutch EU presidency, it would be good for Rutte to deescalate the situation. Frissen: “It would be better for him to start that leading role without too much damage to his political position.”

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