Rutte: De Jonge explained face mask deal well, ‘it was a chaos’

Prime Minister Rutte believes that CDA Minister De Jonge explained well to the House of Representatives what happened to the controversial face mask deal. He also understands that De Jonge can no longer remember his app traffic with businessman Sywert van Lienden. I think he explained in a sensible and calm way what happened and what he did at his best of knowledge, Rutte said in the weekly conversation with the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister responded to Thursday‘s debate in which De Jonge accounted for his involvement in the purchase of 40 million Chinese face masks by Van Lienden and his business partners. There was a lot of discussion about this after it was revealed that Van Lienden earned 20 million euros from it with his associates, while he had suggested working for nothing. The ministry paid 100 million euros for the face masks, which turned out to be so bad that they could not be used.

Sincere apologies

The House of Representatives wanted to know why De Jonge firmly claimed in June 2021 that he was not involved in that deal, while it turned out to be the case. With an appeal to the Public Administration Act (WOB), de Volkskrant received the app traffic of the then Minister of Health. This showed that De Jonge had asked an official to contact Van Lienden.

De Jonge offered his sincere excuse yesterday and explained that he had been involved in the contact with Van Lienden, but not in the elaboration of the deal. He had not negotiated himself and did not know the details of the agreement. A good part of the opposition was dissatisfied with his explanation and filed a vote of mistrust, but it received no support from the majority.

Read the live report of the debate here.

Rutte believes De Jonge, he said in the conversation with the Prime Minister. He mainly outlines the context in which De Jonge sent the apps. This happened in the early days of the corona crisis, when there was a shortage of protective equipment worldwide. It was an incredibly chaotic time. We were flooded by mail, text or app with offers of face masks and lung machines. It was a terrible time.

The deal with Van Lienden became controversial when it emerged that the entrepreneur had made millions selling unusable face masks, Rutte emphasizes. In the meantime, it’s a very big topic and then it‘s viewed through a straw. He understands that De Jonges memory of the apps about Van Lienden was no longer sharp at first. He was solving about 30 to 40 complex issues on an average day.

Millions of documents

He recognizes himself in the situation of De Jonge. A year ago, his statements about a position elsewhere by the then CDA MP Omtzigt were also the subject of a high-running debate in the House of Representatives. It’s hard in a politician‘s life that not everyone believes what you say and doesn’t always agree with you.

The Prime Minister does not agree with the opposition that there is a pattern to recognize in the cabinet when it comes to withholding information from the House of Representatives. The face mask deal involves millions of documents, which are now being viewed by an investigation firm.