Dutch gov't accused of 'undermining the rule of law' in Enschede fireworks disaster
Whistleblower Paul van Buitenen is pressing charges of "undermining the rule of law" in the handling of the Enschede fireworks disaster in 2000 against the Dutch government, the municipality of Enschede, a number of Ministries, the Public Prosecutor, the police and others. The government and other parties involved are not only guilty of the disaster itself, but afterwards also covering up their own failures resulting in the wrong people being punished, Van Buitenen said to Tubantia.
The whistleblower is pressing charges on behalf of himself, the former director of exploded fireworks company S.E. Fireworks Rudi Bakker, former detective Jan Paalman, and Mathilde van der Molen, the widow of one of the four firefighters killed in the disaster. They are accusing a total of 22 organizations and many individual persons of, among other things, death through negligence, perpetrating perjury, forgery, and deception of the court, NOS and Tubantia report. "It is so comprehensive that I just describe it as undermining the rule of law", Van Buitenen said to Tubantia.
The fireworks disaster happened on Saturday, 13 May 2000. At around 3:00 p.m. that day a fire started at fireworks company S.E. Fireworks. How the fire started has never been established with certainty, but it caused a chain reaction of exploding fireworks that eventually led to a gigantic explosion. A total of 23 people were killed, including four firefighters. 947 people were injured. And an entire residential neighborhood was destroyed.
The court initially sentenced an Enschede resident to 15 years in prison for arson, but he was acquitted on appeal. The owners of the company were sentenced to one year in prison for storing too many and too dangerous fireworks at their company.
Former Euro-parliamentarian and whistleblower Van Buitenen spent years investigating what exactly happened before, during and after the fireworks disaster. He studied thousands of public and confidential documents and wrote a report of 1,400 pages about it. Van Buitenen found numerous incongruities, irregularities and actions that he believes are punishable. This includes things like manipulated investigation findings, misinterpreted witness statements, and fake counter-expertise statements, he said.
One of his most important conclusions is that the government covered-up its role in what happened. From the outset of the investigation into the causes of the disaster, the government made clear that it should not be found liable or responsible in any way, according to Van Buitenen.
"I have come to the conviction that things structurally went wrong around the fireworks disaster", he said, according to NOS. "Two days after the disaster, the Minister of Home Affairs. wrote in a letter that it was due to an arsonist and mistakes made at the company. All government institutions and organizations subsequently committed themselves to that vision. That is why the Public Prosecution Service consistently worked towards the desired conclusion in the criminal investigation."
Van Buitenen believes the real cause of the disaster lies in the poor regulations around the storage of fireworks, which led to incorrect classifications and safety regulations. "And that while the government knew better, after a previous fireworks explosion in Culemborg."
The whistleblower therefore feels forced to press charges. He, along with Bakker, Paalman and Van der Molen, will do so at a police station on Monday. "I think that the criminal investigation into the fireworks disaster should be reopened. I hope that the charges are taken seriously and find their way into the judicial system", he said. Otherwise, they will start a so-called Article 12 procedure, through which a court can force the Public Prosecution Service to prosecution.