Sink or swim for Justice Min. in drug dealer payoff debate
Minister Ard van der Steur of Security and Justice is facing another do or die debate in parliament this afternoon. And it seems likely that the day will end either with another official apology from the Minister - his fifth in the less than two year's he's had the position - or with him stepping down, RTL Nieuws reports.
This debate, starting at 2:15 p.m., is again about the so-called Teeven deal - a deal then prosecutor Fred Teeven made with drug criminal Cees H. in 2000 that basically meant that H. got nearly 5 million guilders in return for paying a 750 thousand guilder fine. On Monday journalist Bas Haan revealed a hitherto secret email which shows that Van der Steur as parliamentarian advised that important information be withheld from the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament.
It was already known, and Van der Steur already apologized, that he as parliamentarian helped former Justice Minister and fellow VVD member Ivo Opstelten write a letter to the Tweede Kamer about the Teeven deal. This new email shows that in 2015 he went even further, deleting paragraphs from Opstelten's answers to 99 parliamentary questions, including paragraphs that contained the amounts involved in the deal - a point of confusion for a long time.
In this fifth debate that may mean an end to his position as Minister, Van der Steur will likely have few friends - especially with the elections coming up in less than two months. According to political commentator Frits Wester, the Justice Minister's fate rests in the hands of coalition party PvdA. "If they drop him, Van der Steur can not remain", he said to RTL. And if the PvdA supports him, Van der Steur may have to step down anyway - to save face for his party in the run up to the elections. "He is fighting an image that he has never been able to repair. If he is fried with criticism so cloe to the election, that is not only bad for him, but also fro the whole VVD."
Prime Minister Mark Rutte may also face some tough questions in this debate. According to journalist Haan, Rutte always knew more details about the Teeven deal, but kept his mouth shut. Wester expects that Rutte will be attacked on his reliability. "That his political opponents see as Rutte's weakness. With elections looming they will attack him fiercely on that."
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.
Van der Steur stepped in as Minister of Security and Justice in March 2015, and since then he's already survived four potentially career ending debates, each of them instead ending in an official apology. In June 2015 he had to apologize for the police and judiciary's failure in handling a massive case around Bart van U. - the man who killed former health Minister Els Borst and his sister.
In October of that year he ended up in hot water over a photo of Volkert van der G. - the man who killed Pim Fortuyn. One of the conditions of Van der G.'s early release is that there would be no contact between him and the media, yet a photo of Van der G. appeared in the Telegraaf. Van der Steur initially said that his Ministry was only informed about the photo a day after it was published. Later it turned out that the Public Prosecutor knew about a potential photo for months. Van der Steur was not properly informed, but also did not put any effort into finding out.
In December 2015 Van der Steur gave his first apology regarding the Teeven deal, apologizing for helping Opstelten write a letter to the Kamer.
And in January 2016 Van der Steur had to apologize about how he handled a situation surrounding forensic expert George Maat, who worked on the MH17 investigation and showed photos of the MH17 victims in a lecture he gave. Van der Steur called it "extremely inappropriate and tasteless". But later it turned out tat Maat was not in the wrong.
Van der Steur also faced heat over the police budget and over Brussels attack terror suspect Ibrahim el Bakraoui being extradited to the Netherlands before the terrorist attacks in the Belgian capital without any alarm bells going off.