The Hague, The Netherlands – In April 2020, as in many other countries, the Dutch government lost its coronavirus and worked hard to find ways to fight the epidemic.
The country was in a deadlock, COVID-19 cases were on the rise, hospitals were flooded, and demand for PPE was much higher than supply.
Enter Sywert van Lienden.
The 30-year-old civil servant, political lobbyist, media personality “talk show regularly expressed their concerns about the lack of face masks on social networks” announced that he was creating a non-profit fund to introduce PPE, Stichting Hulptroepen. Alliance
“It is a zero interest for me,” he said.
He soon managed to secure a large stockpile of face masks from China along with two companions, entrepreneurs Bernd Dami and Camille van Gestel.
The work of the foundation was welcomed, Լ van Lienden wanted to publicly share his successes.
Randstad Temp has provided volunteers to the foundation, as well as service providers such as KLM, CoolBlue and Flexport.
The Dutch Ministry of Health and Welfare (VWS) has ordered 40 million masks for € 100.8 million ($ 121 million), an average of € 2.52 per mask ($ 3).
Another buyer was Jos de Bloch, Founder-General Director of the Burtsorg Nursing Home
“Nursing staff and district nurses have not been given any PPE by the government, so we decided to import face masks ourselves,” de Bloch told al-Azira.
He ordered a face mask for € 1.50 ($ 1.8), which is significantly less than VWS.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2021.
Journalists at De Volkskrant’s investigative journal Follow The Money have examined the results, which suggest that the face mask deal may not be as lucrative as van Lienden initially argued.
On May 15, De Volkskrant reported that van Lienden և and his partners had set up a limited company immediately after its founding launch.
The € 100.8 million state order was placed through this limited company, called Relief Goods Alliance (RGA).
Two weeks later, Follow the Money reported that van Lienden had won at least 9 million euros ($ 11 million) in the deal, and his companions each won about 5 million euros ($ 6 million).
“We knew we were in for something, something special was happening,” Follow The Money reporter Followtefan Vermülen told Al Jazeera. “And then we found evidence that they earned more than 20 million euros ($ 24 million). The news was lightning in a bottle. “
40 million face masks have never been used, they remain in storage. The Dutch Ministry of Purchasing, VWS, claims that this is due to insufficient supply. However, in the aftermath there are claims that the masks contain graphene.
The Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment rejected the masks, but it is not an official testing body.
Graphene is not considered a dangerous substance, but last month the Canadian authorities advised people not to wear masks that contain a thin layer of graphite.
An burn և policy
The scandal caused a great deal of controversy, with Van Lienden, the most famous of the three, receiving a harsh response from the media.
Van Lienden declined Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the article.
De Volkskrant reporter Tom Kreling, who broke the news, said the situation was twofold.
“He is very well known, that’s why he managed to enter the ministry and negotiate a deal,” Kreling told Al aze Azira TV.
“He always said he was doing it for nothing. Now that it turns out to be fake, it gets a lot of attention.”
But there is also a political aspect to this controversial deal.
“Van Lienden is affiliated with the CDA [the Christian Democratic Party]He wrote the pre-election manifesto. “The question is, to what extent did his political affiliation contribute?”
The story comes at a time of turmoil for the Dutch government following several serious scandals.
Prominent CDA politician Peter Omzigt left the party last weekend after a letter from members denouncing his mistreatment appeared.
“This adds to the image of the CDA as a crisis party,” said Dirk Jan Wolfram, a professor of politics at the University of Groningen. “Van Lienden’s deal may be the biggest problem for them, but it gives the following hint: ‘Look, these Christian Democrats are fishing again.’
The party is the fourth largest in the country since the March general elections. Attempts to create a new cabinet have failed.
The CDA was quick to point out that they were trying to oust van Lienden, a former member of the party.
The government’s National Resource Consortium, LCH, argues that the RGA և VWS face mask deal was not necessary as LCH already had sufficient supplies.
Opposition parties have stated they will not run in the by-elections, claiming that the deal was legal.
Since then, the cabinet has promised to conduct an external, independent investigation into the deal.
“In the Netherlands, we were shocked to see that a huge amount of government money was available since the epidemic began,” Wolfram said. “Of course, everyone used to support it, but recently people have started to question those costs.”
Van Lienden broke his silence in a recent television interview.
He apologized for the lack of transparency, but insisted it was due to secrecy. He claims that this construction was demanded by the government, that they are aware of it.
The CDA board is investigating van Lienden’s allegation that he informed the party of his commercial activities.
“Van Lienden is the embodiment of public betrayal in a crisis, which worries the Dutch,” said Farid Azarkan, a member of the Dutch House of Representatives and leader of the DENK political party.
“We need more transparency. Why did VWS buy the masks for 2.52 euros and the others paid less? ”
For Frank Wieser, a mental health worker, this is another example of a “typical Dutch policy”.
“It’s all about flirting,” Visser told Al Jazeera. “He has to give the money back to the healthcare sector.”
And what about the 9 million euros?
Promising to “adjust his moral compass”, van Lienden offered to invest the money and use the profits for cancer research.
But so far, two Dutch cancer foundations, the Princess Máxima Pediatric Oncology Center, have said they will not accept any money if they apply.
They said it belonged to the taxpayers and suggested that it be returned to the Ministry of Health.
“I think it is very good that the foundations say they do not want money. “It’s dirty money,” Dutchman Les Yul van der Wird, who works as a process manager, told Al Jazeera.
“I think a lot of people have made lucrative deals during this epidemic, which is understandable, but this deal is being repeated. It confirms the intestinal feeling of people that something shadowy is happening in the government. “
Azarkan offered two motions against van Lienden this week.
“We give him two options,” Al-Azarkan told Al Jazeera. “Either he will return the money or we will do our best to get it back. This is taxpayers’ money. “
The motions will be discussed on Tuesday.