Dutch Government Resigns After Benefits Scandal

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Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders, and his cabinet resigned on Friday over a report highlighting systemic failure by his government to protect thousands of families from overzealous tax inspectors.

Mr. Rutte has handed in his resignation and that of his entire cabinet to King Willem-Alexander van Oranje, the public broadcaster NOS reported.

“Mistakes have been made on all levels that have led to great injustice for thousands of families. Innocent people have been criminalized, and their lives destroyed,” Mr. Rutte said in a news conference. “This cabinet has taken full responsibility.” Mr. Rutte said the report that led to the downfall of the cabinet was “hard as nails,” but “fair.”

The report, the result of an inquiry in which Mr. Rutte was also questioned, concluded that “unprecedented injustice” had been done to innocent families, some of whom were forced to immediately repay huge amounts in child care benefits.

In many cases an administrative mistake like a missing signature was enough for the tax authority to label parents as frauds and fine families as much as tens of thousands of euros, the report said.

“Fundamental principles of the rule of law were violated,” it concluded, blasting both the government and Parliament for creating “rock-hard laws” with little room to fairly consider individual cases.

Mr. Rutte and his cabinet will continue running the government in a caretaker capacity, with general elections already scheduled for March. His center-right is currently leading in the polls, and the other parties in his coalition, who have also been touched by the scandal, are not expected to call for earlier elections because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Rutte had been serving his third term as prime minister and has been leading the Netherlands since 2010. If his party again gets the largest share of votes in the upcoming elections, he can serve a fourth term.

The chairman of the parliamentary committee that led the inquiry, Chris van Dam, said the system that was created to track down benefits fraud was “a mass process with no room for nuance.”

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