Dutch Premier Rutte Under Pressure as Political Probe Grows

  • Parliament to question justice minister on deal with criminal
  • Polls show Rutte’s party is tied before March 15 election

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is under scrutiny less than two months before Dutch voters head to the polls after a news program alleged that his justice minister deceived lawmakers about what knowledge he had of a deal in which the government made a payment to a criminal drug trafficker.

The Dutch Parliament will question Justice Minister Ard van der Steur, a member of Rutte’s Liberal party, on Jan. 26 after the news program Nieuwsuur said that in 2015 he withheld information from fellow lawmakers about details of the transaction. The report also claimed he didn’t inform Parliament correctly when he was questioned about the issue after he became a member of Rutte’s cabinet.

Rutte’s Liberals are running neck-and-neck with Geert Wilders’s anti-Islam, anti-European Union Freedom Party ahead of March 15 elections that will decide control of the government. Highlighting the sensitivity of the migration issue, which has propelled Wilders in the polls, Rutte published a one-page advertisement in the main Dutch newspapers warning immigrants they should “be normal or leave.”

“The facts that came up now were already known,” Rutte said in a television interview on RTL on Monday. “If there’s something not right, members of parliament have every reason to discuss this in a debate, but give us the time to put all the facts in order.”

Parliament is seeking to question van der Steur over what information he had when the legislative body was investigating a 2 million-euro ($2.15 million) payment that was part of a deal designed by the public prosecutor in 2000 to a convicted drug trafficker. In 2015, the justice minister and his deputy, both members of the Liberal Party, resigned for misinforming parliament on the matter.

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