Den Haag city council coalition falls amid major bribery case

Den Haag City Council as of Nov. 30, 2018
The full City Council of Den Haag on Nov. 30, 2018Photo: Gemeenteraad Den Haag

A corruption scandal in the city council of Den Haag has led to the collapse of that city's governing body. On Tuesday, prosecutors revealed that the homes and offices of two aldermen from political faction "Groep de Mos/Hart voor Den Haag" (GDM) were raided by officials in a bribes-for-permits investigation.

Two suspects in the case are Alderman Richard de Mos, who handles the Economy, Sport, and Outdoor Space portfolios, and Alderman Rachid Guernaoui, of Finance, Integration, and Districts. De Mos is also the city's first deputy mayor.

GDM is the largest party in Den Haag's city council, and the group partnered with the VVD, D66, and GroenLinks to form a governing coalition. Wednesday afternoon those parties said they no longer had confidence in GDM, they wrote in a joint statement first reported by broadcaster NOS.

"The city government plays an exemplary role in the area of ​​integrity, and we cannot live up to the city in the current composition of the coalition," the three former coalition partners wrote. "The cooperation between our four parties had started with formation interviews where integrity and ethical conduct were very high on the agenda," the letter noted.

The coalition held 26 of 45 city council seats, according to the Den Haag government website. GDM represents eight of those, the VVD has seven, D66 with six, and GroenLinks sits in five spots.

The two announced their temporary resignations while the case is under investigation after Mayor Pauline Krikke urged them to step down. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors said a third suspect is a civil servant from the GDM faction serving as a city council member. 

Another suspect, also from the GDM candidate list, is an entrepreneur suspected of funding the political party in a quid pro quo that allegedly provided him with confidential information from city hall and other favors. Other entrepreneurs are also suspected of bribery, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

"The four parties agree that the value of integrity is given meaning in their actions," the coalition break-up statement continued.

Krikke on Tuesday said she was "very shocked" by the investigation. She met with party leaders in The Hague on Tuesday, and an emergency council meeting was expected on Wednesday. The VVD, D66, and GroenLinks party members were hopeful that the hearing on Wednesday would help shape and stabilize the future of the city's government.

Arjen Dubbelaar, a leader of the GDM faction, called the investigation a case of "character assassination." Of the case, he said, "The issuance of night permits and a vibrant hospitality industry were among the spearheads during the election campaign of March 2018. We are also proud to have gotten it into the coalition agreement and our aldermen are working on the implementation."

Den Haag is presided over by a governing body, which consists of the mayor and eight alderpersons, each monitoring their own political portfolios. Their work is checked by the entire city council, 45 officials elected in municipal balloting held every four years. They select the city's alderpersons from within their organization, with those chosen being required to give up their council to ensure more independence and oversight.

The alderpersons meet with the mayor every Tuesday behind closed doors, while the entire council sets their own agenda and meets every third week. The council meeting is open to the public.