The Teeven affair

Three weeks ago the Teeven affair came to a head with Security and Justice minister Van der Steur resigning. This is generally seen as a serious problem for prime minister and VVD leader Rutte, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to treat it.

The affair is nothing new; in fact, Opstelten, the previous Security and Justice minister, resigned over it in 2015. I have been postponing and postponing a post about this affair, since it’s complicated and mostly boring — the ultimate in Dutch inside political baseball.

But here we go.

The Teeven deal

In 1994 a big-time drug dealer was convicted, and among other things about 21 million guilders (this was before the euro; it’s about 10 million euros) was confiscated. In 2000, then-public prosecutor and VVD member Fred Teeven started to negotiate a settlement with this drug dealer. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why Teeven wanted a settlement — I seem to remember that the drug dealer was supposed to give information in return, but right now I can’t find a definite source on that.

In any case, the why is not important — it’s the how that counts. Teeven returned part of the money to the drug dealer, but didn’t inform the tax revenue service. Besides, for a long time it was unclear exactly how much Teeven had paid, and that’s what the actual affair focuses on.

The affair briefly surfaced in 2002, when the then-Justice minister told parliament the deal had been in the order of 2 millions guilders. This did not have any direct consequences, but, as it turned out later, parliament received incorrect information.

For years and years nothing happened. Teeven, already a VVD member, made a minor law-and-order name for himself, went into politics by leading the LN party in 2002, was deposed as party leader just before that party’s defeat in the 2003 elections, and returned to parliament in 2006 for the VVD. In 2010 he was made secretary of Security and Justice in the Rutte I government, and in the 2012 formation he retained this position.

Opstelten resigns

In 2014 the affair was re-opened. A journalist approached TV news program Nieuwsuur and gave it details on the deal suggesting the amount was higher than the 2 million claimed in 2002. Security and Justice minister Opstelten, Teeven’s direct boss, told parliament the amount paid was in the order of 1.25 million guilders, while the drug dealer’s lawyer said it was more like 5 million guilders.

Parliament requested more information from Opstelten and Teeven, who replied that they couldn’t find the deal’s receipt, citing IT problems with the old 1994 systems, and Teeven could not remember the exact amount involved. Right.

A year later, in 2015, the receipt was found after all, and it stated that Teeven had paid the drug dealer 4.7 million guilders, considerably more than the 2 million reported in 2002. Despite a last-ditch attempt to blame his IT staff, Opstelten resigned, and Teeven with him.

But that’s not the end of the affair. The chairwoman of parliament, Miltenburg (VVD), who was widely criticised for being one of the least efficient chairs in memory, was found to have destroyed an anonymous letter to parliament about the affair, and she resigned as well in early 2016.

Van der Steur resigns

A tenacious investigative journalist, Bas Haan, didn’t leave well enough alone and found that, during the 2015 crisis, VVD MP Van der Steur had actively helped Opstelten and Teeven in creating their official reply to the questions parliament had asked them. Specifically, Van der Steur kept mum about the fact that Teeven could remember the 4.7 million figure. (Please act surprised.)

The point was: Van der Steur had been named Opstelten’s successor as minister of Security and Justice. A quid pro quo? Unprovable, of course, but common sense suggests a connection between these two facts. In any case, three weeks ago Van der Steur also resigned as well. He was succeeded by housing minister Blok for the final months of the Rutte II government.

What does Rutte know?

But we’re still not done. Given the fact that two successive Justice ministers knew full well what was going on and still misinformed parliament, what did prime minister Rutte know? Recently journalist Haan claimed that three of Rutte’s closest advisors had known the facts, and although such advisors are required to commit political seppuku in order to protect their boss, few people doubt that Rutte had indeed been informed of the correct amount and knew exactly what the Justice ministers tried to hide. (Still, this likely won’t ever be proven.)

Thus the Teeven affair is becoming a serious problem for Rutte and the entire VVD. All main protagonists were VVD members — no other party had any involvement in any of the affair’s stages.

The Council of State

And then, last week, Rutte made a serious mistake: he nominated Teeven for the Council of State, the highest court of administrative law and an advisory body for government concerned with judging the appropriateness of new laws. This led to a storm of outrage, and the optics were of course extremely bad. The average Dutch citizen knows Teeven mostly from his affair, and it had just been established again he’d lied to parliament, so nominating him to this plum job was seen as a VVD power play.

A few days later Rutte backtracked: Teeven’s appointment was “postponed.” The official reason was that vice-prime minister and PvdA leader Asscher had not been informed. Whatever — it might be true, but it doesn’t change anything. The damage had been done.

The ministry of Security and Justice

That’s where we stand now with regard to the Teeven affair. Still, there’s one more point to be made about the ministry of Security and Justice. Although there’s no doubt that Teeven, Opstelten, and Van der Steur were personally culpable in the affair, the ministry itself is also an important protagonist.

The ministry of Security and Justice was created in the 2010 coalition negotiations, when VVD and CDA struck a deal with Wilders. The VVD, especially, badly needed a law and order profile, and therefore it was decided to merge the old ministry of Justice with the part of the ministry of the Interior responsible for security. In particular, the police was transferred from the Interior to Justice. This is nothing new; the two ministries have an eternal struggle going on for control of the police. Usually the Interior wins, but this time Justice did. (I assume that police will return to the Interior after the coming coalition negotiations.)

Anyway, the ministry of Security and Justice never really functioned well, and since it’s a VVD creation it is that party that’s mostly to blame. The reorganisation of the police is a chaos, mistakes are being made constantly, and more in general the political and administrative leadership is considerably more right-wing than Dutch society as a whole.

To make things worse, just today a news item surfaced that nearly a quarter of the ministry’s staff is considering leaving, mostly due to high workload, and a lack of vision and communication. This is exactly the sort of news that the VVD doesn’t need right now.

Anyway, the Teeven affair and the problems at the Security and Justice are a serious problem for the VVD just before the elections. They might explain why, while the PVV is losing a few seats in the polls, the VVD isn’t picking up any. Also, expect some Teeven-related attacks on Rutte.

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This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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