Justice Minister resigns over accusations of covering up drug dealer payout

Ard van der Steur (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/VVD/Matthijs Idema)Ard van der Steur (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/VVD/Matthijs Idema)

Justice Minister Ard van der Steur resigned his position following a hearing in parliament Thursday where angry politicians accused him of withholding information from MPs. He is the fourth politician in this cabinet forced to resign over a deal the Justice Ministry made nearly 15 years ago when Fred Teeven, then in the prosecutor's office, approved returning millions more in seized cash to an alleged drug trafficker than was told to parliament years later.

Van der Steur said Thursday night that he first wanted to defend himself against "unfounded accusations that are not founded on any truth." However he was unsuccessful, he said. "Therefore, I am submitting my resignation to his Majesty the King."

Teeven resigned his position as Justice Secretary in 2015 when evidence of the payout surfaced, showing he approved of a 4.7-million guilder (2.1 million euros) payout to Cees H. Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten resigned the same day, when the evidence appeared to point to a high-level cover up, as Opstelten informed parliament the deal was for 1.25 million guilders. Leader of the Lower House of Parliament Anouchka van Miltenburg also quit in 2015 when it was revealed that she ordered letters from a whistleblower to be shredded, when it would have brought this information into the public eye much sooner.

All four are members of the ruling conservative VVD party, including Van der Steur. Teeven re-entered parliament as the replacement MP for Van der Steur when he was promoted to Opstelten's job.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, also in the VVD, gave Van der Steur a warm embrace on the floor of the Lower House after the Justice Minister resigned.

"Here we are again", PVV leader Geert Wilders said in the debate, according to AD's liveblog. "The umpteenth debate with this failing Prime Minister an this blundering Minister." Wilders accused Van der Steur of deliberately concealing facts, but according to him, the biggest fault lies with Prime Minister Mark Rutte. "A Prime Minister without direction, without authoritiy."

According to ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers, this debate is not just about the Teeven deal. "This debate is about political morality, what is normal and decent." D66 leader Alexander Pechtold agreed. This debate is no longer about the deal alone. It is about how the center of power dealt with the truth." 

GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver called Van der Steur hypocritical and called it outrageous that even after so many debates, not all the facts about the Teeven deal are known. "This issue harms us all", he said. 

Parliamentarian Tunahan Kuzu called this entire issue a cover-up-affair. He added that Van der Steur as Justice Minister was an accumulation of failures and called on him to step down. "Act normal or go away", he said, quoting a controversial campaign letter Rutte published earlier this week - the New York Times called it "a strategy that could have come from President Trump's playbook"

This was the second time Van der Steur faced angry parliamentarians over his role in the so-called "Teeven Deal," and his fifth do-or-die debate since he became Minister of Security and Justice less than two years ago. In December 2015 he had to make an official apology after it was revealed that as a parliamentarian he helped then Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten write a letter to parliament informing them about the deal. Earlier this week reporter Bas aan revealed that in 2015 Van der Steur went even farther than that - an email Haan discovered shows that Van der Steur advised Opstelten to withhold important information from parliament while answering parliamentary questions about the deal. This included information about the amounts involved, a point of major confusion for years.

The Teeven-deal is a deal made between prosecutor Fred Teeven and Cees H., who was suspected of drug trafficking. The Public Prosecutor seized his bank accounts. The Prosecutor eventually decided to close the case with a settlement deal, as there was not enough evidence to prove drug trafficking. Prosecutor Teeven made the deal - H. would pay 750 thousand guilders as a fine and his confiscated bank accounts would be returned to him. Part of the deal was that the tax authorities would not be informed - he would not have to pay taxes on the money he got back. 

For years the amounts involved in this deal remained unclear. In 2014 Nieuwsuur revealed that it involved almost 5 million guilders, something Justice Minister Optselten quickly denied. He ordered that the "receipt" showing the amounts involved be found, but later came back saying that the receipt was impossible to trace. An external firm found it in a few days, and the amount involved was indeed nearly 5 million guilders - 4,710,627.18 to be exact. Opstelten and Teeven, then the State Secretary of Security and Justice, both resigned. In December of 2015 VVD Kamer president Anouchka van Miltenburg also resigned, after it was revealed that she ignored two incriminating letters sent to her about the deal. 

A committee was established to find out exactly what happened with this deal, especially reports that superiors in the Ministry ordered its IT staff to stop looking for the receipt that showed the amounts involved in the del. And after two separate investigations, the committee concluded that the Ministry of Security and Justice is in such a mess that it seems incapable of a cover up. Such a situation implies at least the organizational capacity and the administrative power to effectively cover up the business and to keep it covered up. And also to - for that purpose and unlike what happened in this case - keep the circle of those involved as small as possible", the committee