Monday 18 November 2019

Royal Real Estate

King Willem-Alexander’s dodgy real estate deals are setting a bad example, writes Meindert Fennema.

In 1993, Willem-Alexander bought Noordeinde 66 (a property measuring 640m2) from his grandmother for 750,000 guilders. He became the owner of this impressive piece of real estate at a third of its market value. It was a clever way around having to pay inheritance tax. It’s funny the tax office didn’t have anything to say about it at the time.

I remember a great uncle of mine who, on emigrating to the US in 1956, wanted to sell his house to my parents for 2,000 guilders as a way of saying thank you for giving him a home for a year after his wife died. The tax office valued the house at 4,000 and that had to be the minimum price.

Can it be that different tax rules apply to the royal family? Or did Willem-Alexander’s secretary bribe the tax inspector?

Another refurbishment

Whatever the case, Noordeinde 66 was given a thorough make-over and the then crown prince lived there between 1995 and 2003. He and Máxima then moved to Villa Eikenhorst in Wassenaar, the former home of his aunt princess Christina.

In 2007, Noordeinde 66 was sold to the state for €3.25m. Did the government pay too much? Probably not: the property was already worth two million guilders in 1993 and the renovation probably added another million. In 1995 it must have been worth at least 3 million and it is likely Noordeinde 66 doubled in value between 1995 and 2007.

Now the government has decided to refurbish the property yet again, to accommodate another grandmother, princess Beatrix. She will then be living next door to Palace Noordeinde, the official ‘work palace’ of the royals, and have her own pied-a-terre in The Hague. The bill? Another million but in euros this time. Prime minister Mark Rutte talked of ‘a gigantic building in need of constant refurbishment.’

‘Prince Real Estate’

I would say he was exaggerating slightly. A property of three floors with a combined floor space of 640m2 is not ‘gigantic’ and the fact it needs ‘constant refurbishment’ is nothing to do with the state of the building and everything to do with the demands of the royal family. A property that was completely done up in 1995 shouldn’t be in need of a ‘complete overhaul’ in 2014 unless the work was done by cowboy builders.

The present king was nicknamed ‘prince real estate’ in his younger days because he could smell a real estate profit from miles away. In 2007 he bought four plots in Mozambique to build a number of big holiday villas. He was forced to sell them in 2012 after the projects came in for criticism. He then went to Greece and bought a villa there. It turns out the private harbour he had built doesn’t comply with the rules. Rumour has it that Greek ministers were given a backhander.

Money grabbers

‘Fat cats undermine democracy,’ René Cuperus wrote in the Volkskrant. ‘To the money-grabbers at Vestia, NZa and ANWB: thanks for strengthening our democracy. Thanks for convincing the public once and for all that people at the top are nothing more than amoral greedy bastards.’

It’s surprising that this criticism of the ‘self- enrichment of the welfare state elite’ doesn’t extend to the House of Orange.

It’s not as if we weren’t warned. In 1871 patriot Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol wrote: ‘Oh, countrymen! Our cherished kings of Orange, no matter how prettily they are painted by flatterers, are the same as kings the world over. They are given the same perverted courtly education; they are spoon fed the same sentiments from the cradle, the same arrogance, the pride, the lust for power, and the desire to elevate themselves above all.’

Willem-Alexander serves as an example for all the people Cuperus calls money-grabbers. A fish rots from the head down.

Money-grabbing, like golf, has become mainstream. You’re a fool if you don’t bamboozle the tax office. If you don’t grab, you’re a loser. We are seeing the democratisation of corruption.

Meindert Fennema is emeritus professor of political science and a writer and columnist.

This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant


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