THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday, accepting responsibility for wrongful accusations of fraud by the tax authorities that drove thousands of families to financial ruin, often on the basis of ethnicity.
The cabinet would remain in place for now in a caretaker capacity to manage the coronavirus crisis, Rutte said. He then rode his bike to King Willem-Alexander’s 17th century baroque Huis Ten Bosch palace in The Hague to discuss his resignation.
An election has already been scheduled for March 17 at the end of Rutte’s third term.
“This is about tens of thousands of parents who were crushed under the wheels of the state,” Rutte told journalists. “There can be no doubt, this is a colossal stain.”
A parliamentary inquiry found last month that officials at the tax service had wrongly accused families of fraud over childcare subsidies, causing an “unprecedented injustice”.
Around 10,000 families had been forced to repay tens of thousands of euros each, in some cases leading to unemployment, bankruptcies and divorces. Many of the families were targeted based on their ethnic origin or dual nationalities, the tax office said last year.
“It is never acceptable for someone to feel they are being discriminated against based on nationality, race, gender, or sexual (orientation),” Rutte said. “It is absolutely unacceptable in a law-based state.”
Orlando Kadir, an attorney representing around 600 families in a lawsuit against politicians, said people had been targeted “as a result of ethnic profiling by bureaucrats who picked out their foreign-looking names”.
The crisis comes with the Netherlands in the midst of the toughest lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Rutte considering even more curbs as infections surge.
Even though public support for the government’s COVID-19 measures has dipped sharply in recent weeks, Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is still riding high in public opinion polls ahead of the March election.
Rutte, in power since 2010, has been on course for a fourth term, with his party projected to take just under 30% of the vote, more than twice that seen going to the second placed PVV, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders.
Additional reporting by Bart Meijer and Toby Sterling; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Peter Graff
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