Monday 09 December 2019

Otten calls on Baudet to publish accounts as FvD’s summer of discontent heats up

Forum voor Democratie (FvD) founder Henk Otten has accused the party of making ‘very substantial’ undocumented payments to leading members, in the latest stage of an increasingly bitter row played out on Twitter.

The senator and former party treasurer was thrown out of the party last week for allegedly making unauthorised payments to himself, a former colleague and his lover. Otten has vowed to sue the party leadership for libel and claims to be the victim of ‘character assassination.’

The 52-year-old Otten co-founded FvD with Thierry Baudet and was the party’s leading fundraiser in its early days. But the relationship soured after he gave an interview to NRC in April, shortly after the party’s success in the provincial elections, in which he criticised Baudet for moving towards the nationalist right.

The FvD has since claimed that Otten gave the interview in order to divert attention from his own ‘financial misconduct’.

The party said last week it had expelled Otten in connection with financial irregularities, including a €30,000 payment to himself, €145,000 to former provincial assembly member Robert Baljeu and €10,000 to his mistress.

Baudet said he took action when he discovered that the party’s bank balance had shrunk to a few hundred euros, having been blocked repeatedly by Otten from viewing the accounts.

In a timeline published on its website, FvD claimed Otten had paid himself a €5,000 annual bonus and taken cash from a safe deposit box that had been collected from members during party events.

The party said Otten had refused to produce documents relating to the party’s accounts, sent threatening emails and vowed to ‘take everyone with me if I go down,’ shortly before his ‘infamous interview’ was published in NRC.

‘As a friend and member of the management committee we trusted him [Otten] 100% and gave him every freedom to carry out his role as treasurer on his own terms,’ said the statement signed by Paul Cliteur, leader of FvD’s group of senators. ‘This has failed so seriously that consequences must follow.’

No evidence

The party asked the home affairs ministry and its accountants, Van Noort Gassler & Co, to investigate possible fraud by Otten, but both organisations said at the weekend there was no evidence of financial wrongdoing.

Otten countered with a letter, published on Twitter, in which he claimed FvD had given ‘very substantial sums’ from party coffers to leading members including senators, members of the lower house and members of the European Parliament. The party currently has two MPs, three MEPs and 11 senators.

‘In the interests of the transparency that provincial and municipal party chairs have demanded, I call on the party leadership to publish, at the earliest possible opportunity, a detailed breakdown of ALL payments made from the party’s accounts to these people, including the names of the persons concerned, as well as a breakdown of ALL payments to current members of the party leadership and advisors of the party leadership,’ he wrote.

Otten also berated FvD leader Thierry Baudet and secretary Rob Rooken for not confirming his expulsion in writing, as required by party rules.

Despite no longer being a party member, Otten has said he will keep his seat in the senate, reducing FvD’s representation to 11. It leaves the VVD as the largest party in the upper house with 12 senators.

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