Justice Minister, Secretary step down over drug payoff

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Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten and his deputy, Secretary Fred Teeven, resigned Monday night from the government, they announced during consecutive press conferences at the ministry. The two stepped down from office over a settlement deal Teeven made as prosecutor, that gave 4.7-million guilders (2.1 million euros) tax free to criminal Cees H. in 2001. News of the payout resurfaced last year, with Minister Opstelten forced to answer questions about his number two's decision.

Minister Opstelten said the payout was for 1.25 million guilders, and that paperwork of the transfer disappeared, but last week television show Nieuwsuur said the deal was actually for 4.7 million guilders. De Telegraaf backed this up after an interview with Cees H.'s attorney gave the newspaper access to a copy of the bank transfer. Another copy of the receipt turned up at the Ministry of Justice on Monday.

"Just now, I have sent answers to the Tweede Kamer [about questions] that were asked about a deal between the Openbare Ministiere and Cees H. now 15 years ago," Opstelten said at a hastily-scheduled press conference Monday night. "I've indicated time and again that there should be clarity about the details of this deal," he added.

Despite asking his employees to collect all information about the detail, he says that it was not possible last year to have the information. However, once a copy of the digital transfer turned up, he had no choice but "to take full responsibility," as precise details of the transfer could have been revealed sooner. "For this, I have and take the full responsibility, and therefor I have given my resignation to the King," he said before thanking everyone and leaving the press conference.

Secretary Teeven then took to the podium, saying "this touches me deeply. I have worked four-and-a-half years with the minister" to make the Netherlands safer. "I would have liked to have finished the job," but, "I find I have lost credibility to function now that the minister has resigned on this specific issue," he added. He said that there was "nothing wrong with the deal" he made with Cees H., but the situation is the reason he submitted his resignation to the King.

Both resignations come less than nine days before the Dutch provincial elections, which leads to the makeup of the senate. Popularity for the ruling VVD-PvdA coalition is slipping according to recent polling data from statistician Maurice de Hond.