Dutch government resigns amid child benefit scandal

The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the resignation of his government on Friday amid an intensifying child benefits scandal in which 20,000 families were wrongly accused of availing child benefit through fraud. 

Ministers from the four-party coalition will stay on in a caregiver capacity until a new coalition is formed. Eric Wiebes, the economic affairs and climate minister is the only one resigning immediately. General elections are supposed to be held in two months and Rutte’s centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is leading the polls and may form government again.

In a press conference, Rutte said, “The government was not up to standard throughout this whole affair. Mistakes were made at every level of the state, with the result that terrible injustice was done to thousands of parents.”

It has been two years since the scandal was exposed by journalists. The resignation, however, came after a parliamentary report, Unprecedented Injustice, was published last month which stated that “fundamental principles of the rule of law had been violated”.

The report stated that ministers, MPs, civil servants and court judges will all share responsibility and it also criticised the government for the way it provided information to the parliament.

In the press conference, Rutte called the report “fair” and “scathing” and said, “innocent people have been criminalized, their lives have been destroyed and the parliament has been incorrectly and incompletely informed about this.”

Talking to the Guardian, Orlando Kadir, an attorney representing about 600 families, said people had been targeted “as a result of ethnic profiling by bureaucrats who picked out their foreign-looking names”.

The government has apologised for the tax office’s methods and set aside more than €500m (£450m) in compensation, about €30,000 for each family.

Opposition Labour Party leader, Lodewijk Asscher, who was Social affairs minister in the previous government also resigned. 

Twenty of the families affected by the scandal have taken legal action against Asscher and ministers from three of the parties in the coalition alleging criminal negligence. 

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