PM Rutte refuses to answer questions on Shell tax deal; MPs furious

Prime Minister Mark Rutte refused to answer substantive questions about a tax deal between Shell and the Tax Authority in the Tweede Kamer on Tuesday, leaving parliamentarians furious.

On Saturday Trouw reported that Shell and the Tax Authority made a deal in 2005 through which Shell shareholders pay no dividend tax. This deal was made after Shell's Dutch and British branches merged and the oil company's headquarters were established in the Netherlands. Great Britain doesn't have dividend tax, the Netherlands does. This deal was made so that British shareholders did not have to start paying dividend tax due to the move to the Netherlands. According to Trouw, the Dutch treasury lost out on 7 billion euros through this deal.

SP leader Lilian Marijnissen asked Rutte to come to the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, on Tuesday, reports. She wanted to know from him whether he knew about this tax agreement and if he agrees with the SP that Shell must repay the 7 billion euros. 

The government first only sent State Secretary Menno Shell of Finance to the Kamer. As the government member politically responsible for the Tax Authority, Snel was the right person to answer questions about a tax deal, Rutte thought. But almost the entire opposition insisted that Rutte come to parliament. The VVD also agreed, giving the motion to send for Rutte the support of a parliamentary majority. 

Rutte arrived at the Kamer 30 minutes later. "I understand the questions that arise from the article in Trouw. In this sense the inconvenience is that you can not speak publicly about this matter. The law does not allow that", the Prime Minister said in response to Marijnissen's questions. He further referred to Snel to answer the parliamentarians' questions, to the annoyance of the opposition parties.

"We did not ask for nothing whether the Prime Minister wanted to come to the Kamer", Marijnissen said. PVV leader Geert Wilders called it a "total joke". According to GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver, the file on dividend tax is ultimately in Rutte's hands. "Whether he wants it or not."

"We had a ten-hour debate about Shell's involvement in the abolition of dividend tax", Marijnissen said. The coalition agreed in their government agreement that dividend tax will be abolished in the Netherlands in 2020. "I asked directly whether the Prime Minister was aware of the content of the agreements [with Shell]. I want an answer."

But Rutte repeated that publicly discussing this type of business is prohibited by law. "It is out of the question that I will publicly comment on what we do or do not know about the content of a possible agreement", he said, according to the newspaper. He did agree to inform the Kamer about it confidentially. 

D66 leader Alexander Pechtold suggested adding these questions to an already planned debate on the government's intention to abolish dividend tax. A majority in the Kamer agreed. GroenLinks proposed that the consequences of the abolition of this tax be examined. But the coalition voted against, so this proposal did not have the support of a parliamentary majority.