Control room by room
Knops purchased the land in 2010 as a private person. At the time he was a CDA Member of Parliament. Ten years later, newspaper research by the NRC and De Limburger showed that Knops was favored in that land deal with a Limburg County company led by fellow Knops partisans. That company implemented a so-called “room-by-room scheme”, in which former pig stables are converted into plots of land for construction. The newspapers indicated that Knobs settled a plot of land of 750 square meters with a residential destination at the notary. But when the land registry came to measure the land, it was found that the land area is 1,175 square meters. This additional 425 square meters has become much more valuable due to the residential destination arranged by the company.
When there was a buzz about this last year, Knops Department officials assisted with legal analyzes and communication strategy and consulted with other governments about reactions to newspapers. NRC reports based on Wob documents issued by the Ministry. The Norwegian Refugee Council wrote that the state attorney and the cadastre, a service of the ministry, had been deployed to deal with a private matter. In the paper, the department defends the use of civil servants in a private matter: “Serious allegations affecting the integrity of the Secretary of State are closely related to public performance.” Integrity experts once again criticize this reasoning. It should be noted that the Council of Ministers has never established a code of integrity for ministers.
Horst on the River Maas
Remarkably, Knobs officials also obtained information from the municipality of Horst-an-de-Mas, where Knopps built his house. The municipality initially had documents submitted to the NRC that were evaluated by officials from the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations. Municipal officials later sent questions from the NRC to Horst-an-de-Mas municipality to the ministry. “Thanks for the alert,” the newspaper said, an official replied by email. The municipality has also provided answers to press questions to Knops officials in advance. Meanwhile, he is filing a lawsuit against NRC, De Limburger, and against the journalists involved. The NRC notes that Knobs sends emails between NRC journalist Joep Domen and the ministry’s spokesperson, when he would not have been able to access them as a private person.
Private matter or not?
Reasons enough for Socialist Party MP Rensky Lijten and Socialist Workers Party MPs Khadija Arib and Barbara Katman to pose questions to outgoing Interior Minister Ollungren and outgoing Prime Minister Ruth. Do they also consider the 2010 land purchase a private matter? And should the minister share this matter with them and announce it if he loses credibility because of a private matter? In this case, official and legal support is not justified, according to MPs. But do Olungren and Ruti think so, too? Have rules been made around this, and if not, why haven’t they been introduced and won’t be introduced yet?
Minister of Integrity
And if the case is indeed about the general performance of the foreign minister, as the ministry claims, could the counsel’s advice from the Directorate of Constitutional Affairs and Legislation and the Attorney General and advice on the communication strategy to be followed become public? How much tax money was actually spent on official and legal support for the Secretary of State in the private matter and on his subsequent suit against the newspapers and journalists? What is the difference between these two issues when it comes to the Secretary of State’s public performance and to what extent does the discussion about his integrity and reputation affect the overall performance of Secretary of State Knopps?
MP SP Leijten complements these questions by noting that the lack of clear guidelines on official assistance puts civil servants in a vulnerable position, making it difficult to refuse their services to the minister. The question is whether Rutte and Olonggreen have admitted this. The question is also whether Root and Olonggreen have been advised by their administrators not to use the knowledge and time of their administrators in the matter. If so, those documents should be published, Lytten believes. The question is also who actually enforces the integrity rules in the Home Office and how this happened.
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