PVV “verkenner” Van Strien steps down over fraud claims

Gom van Strien addresses a press conference on Friday. Photo: ANP/HH/Dirk Hol

The man picked by Geert Wilders to take soundings from political parties about the possible shape of a new Dutch government has stepped down after coming under fire over allegations of financial irregularities at the weekend.

Gom van Strien said in a statement the “unrest” surrounding his person would be detrimental to the coalition formation process.

Van Strien was accused of fraudulently transferring shares in Utrecht Holdings, where he was on the management board until 2009, to an investment firm in his wife’s name.

Utrecht Holdings, a subsidiary of Utrecht University and UMC medical hospital that specialises in marketing medical innovations, filed police complaints of bribery and deception against two former managers in March.

The managers were not named at the time, but Dutch media reported at the weekend that the complaint referred to Van Strien and his successor.

The 72-year-old PVV senator denied all wrongdoing, but admitted he had not informed Wilders and parliamentary chairwoman Vera Bergkamp before he was appointed as verkenner, or scout, on Friday.

Wilders told RTL he had full confidence in his colleague. “There is no question of him being prosecuted, let alone convicted,” he said.

Investment firm

Van Strien was due to meet the leaders of the three largest parties in the new parliament – Wilders, PvdA-GroenLinks leader Frans Timmermans and Dilan Yesilgöz of the right-wing liberal VVD – on Monday but has since tendered his resignation to PVV leader Geert Wilders.

He was also due to talk to the remaining 13 leaders about their preferences for a new cabinet on Tueasday. Yesilgöz said on Friday that her party would not join the new cabinet but was prepared to support a minority right-wing coalition.

The allegations against Van Strien relate to an investment firm, Hereswint Investments, that he and his successor at Utrecht Holdings founded in 2006.

A few days later the company bought a 56% share in a spin-off company of Utrecht Holdings, Nodens BV, for €125,000 in a deal that was signed off by Van Strien.

Wives’ names

Van Strien and his successor allegedly obscured their relationship to the company by registering their 32% stake in their wives’ names. By 2015 Hereswint was the sole owner of Nodens, which paid out a total of more than €2 million in dividends.

Utrecht Holdings filed a formal complaint earlier this year after commissioning a report by Deloitte Forensic and Dispute Services into the affair. “An inquiry revealed that these (former) colleagues did not act in the interests of Utrecht Holdings,” the company said.

The prosecution service (Openbare Ministerie) told RTL Nieuws that it had received a dossier from police but would not go into more detail.

Van Strien confirmed he had received a letter from Utrecht Holdings in January outlining the allegations. “In my view they are unfounded and I strongly distance myself from them,” he said.

He added that he would take action against the university if the claims were made public, “because this has purely been done to damage my good name.”

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