State Sec. of Justice steps down over fudging asylum crime figures

Mark Harbers resigned as State Secretary for Justice and Security on Tuesday evening. The VVD State Secretary, who is responsible for asylum, stepped down after it became known that his Ministry deliberately reported incomplete figures on crimes committed by asylum seekers in a report.

"That the figures were reported in this way falls under my administrative responsibility", Harbers said during a parliamentary debate on the matter on Tuesday, reports. "Not only am I responsible for that in the constitutional sense, I feel responsible for it."

The report in question listed less serious crimes committed by asylum seekers like shoplifting or bicycle theft explicitly with specific figures. But serious crimes like murder, rape and manslaughter, or attempts thereto, where lumped together under the "other" category in the report. Harbers launched an investigation into how the report was drawn up and found that officials at his Ministry repeatedly warned that categorizing suspicions of serious crimes under the "other" category will lead to questions. But nothing was done with these warnings.

After the debate, Harbers said that he was informed of this on Monday evening, according to the newspaper. "The concerns were discussed, but ultimately not presented to me", he said. Harbers called the commotion that arose over the figures "justified criticism" He said that he wanted to use the figures to create more transparency in the immigration policy. "That endeavor has turned out wrong, with parliament being misinformed".

Harbers stressed that there was no "deliberate concealment of the figures". According to him, the serious crimes were added to the "other" category because they concern only suspicions on which there has not yet been an irrevocable court decision. But he takes responsibility for the situation that arose. "I approved the report. I should have asked further questions on this point."

The Justice Ministry has been a difficult one for the VVD to manage. Harbers is the fourth VVD official to resign from this Ministry, though the first one in the Rutte III government. In the previous government both Minister Ivo Opstelten and State Secretary Fred Teeven resigned over a settlement deal made with a drug criminal in 2001. That same deal also resulted in the resignation of Opstelten's successor Ard van der Steur, who was accused of covering it up.