The cabinet will appeal to Booking.com and other companies which last year received state support to deal with coronavirus but which did not need the cash to ‘refund the Dutch taxpayer,’ the Financieele Dagblad has reported.
Last week the NRC revealed that Amsterdam-based Booking.com is paying three top American executives a bonus of €28m in shares, despite having received €69m from the Dutch state in the first months of the pandemic.
MPs have voted to claw back the money, but social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees said during Wednesday’s debate that there are no legal grounds to force repayment.
The first round of coronavirus support did not include the proviso that companies receiving cash could not pay bonuses or dividends.
Koolmees said he did not understand why a company would pay bonuses if it lost 70% of turnover, sacked 5,000 staff and saw its profits plunge by 99%. ‘But that is a personal observation,’ Koolmees said. Booking.com made net profit of $4.9bn in 2019.
Nevertheless, MPs – apart from the eight belonging to far right Forum voor Democratie and Groep Haga – urged ministers to settle scores with Booking.com, with one VVD parliamentarian describing the company as ‘vultures’.
Koolmees did point out that the company probably had used the wage subsidy to keep jobs in the first instance. When it reorganized, cutting 1,000 jobs in the Netherlands, it was no longer making use of the support scheme, he said.
He also said he would take with industry representatives about the moral requirement to pay back the cash. Bed company Auping, for example, has refunded money which it was given in the early stage of the pandemic.
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