Sunday 20 June 2021

€100m face mask deal was above board, despite profit controversy: minister

Sywert van Lienden in a still from a YouTube promo

A controversial deal to import face masks from China, which netted three young entrepreneurs a combined €20m in profit, was above board, medical care minister Tamara van Ark has said in answer to MPs questions.

The deal, put together by CDA activist and civil servant Sywert van Lienden, offered masks for a reasonable price, and of sufficient quality, and could be delivered quickly, Van Ark said. And that is why the deal, worth €100m, was closed, she said.

Details of the deal, which was signed amid a flurry of publicity in April last year, are only now emerging. In particular, there is concern than Van Lienden sold the deal to the public as a non-profit venture, but it was in fact carried out via a newly-formed limited company.

Van Lienden, who helped write the CDA election manifesto, has also now confirmed he personally earned over €9m on the venture.

The fact that a private company carried out the deal, not the foundation, is irrelevant, Van Ark said, when asked about the deception. ‘The only thing that mattered was getting enough, good quality masks to the Netherlands as quickly as possible.’

However the ‘image of exorbitant profits being made during an international crisis is not a good one’ the minister said.

Political contacts

Van Lienden is known to have used his political contacts to gather attention for his deal, and approached healthcare minister Hugo de Jonge (CDA) and his assistant several times, Van Ark said. He also had contact with Van Ark’s predecessor Martin van Rijn.

But there was nothing untoward in this, Van Ark said. All the offers made at the time were studied carefully and there is no question of a conflict of interests, she said.

The face masks provided by Van Lienden later turned out to be surplus to requirements and currently lie in storage. There are also concerns in some quarters about whether or not they are safe to use.

Eventually, if they are not used, the masks will be recycled and sold, Van Ark said. Some will also be donated to charities such as the food bank organisation and abroad.

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