Press Review Wednesday 3 February 2010

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Rich Dutch tax evaders get the shivers, while Dutch prosecutors get another crack of the whip at a terrorist case. The three Rs give pupils problems, drugs give the government a headache and the cold gives the construction sector the shivers.

The lead story in De Volkskrant today is guaranteed to give some wealthy Dutch residents the shivers. Deputy Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager has asked his German counterpart for access to a stolen CD-ROM containing information on secret bank accounts held in Switzerland. An informant has offered the CD-ROM to the German government for 2.5 million euros.
Germany, the paper explains, is in the grips of a debate on whether it is ethical for the authorities to use stolen information in this way. No such qualms in the Netherlands though. Apparently, the Dutch tax office makes a habit of using illicitly acquired evidence and Mr De Jager himself recently paid off an informant.
Twisting the knife, the paper tells us the deputy minister also recently upped the penalty for illegal savings to 300 percent of the tax evaded over the years.
"It's of course good to try and grab illicit savers by the scruff of their necks," says a defence lawyer, "but it now appears that the authorities are allowing themselves to break the law."
The finance ministry dismisses the criticism, citing a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that stolen information could be used as long as the crime was not initiated or helped by the authorities. The CD-ROM would be obtained under a normal exchange treaty.
On paying informants, a ministry spokesperson is rather more coy: "We don't want an American-type situation here. The US authorities offer much higher payments. That's how you attract bounty hunters. We don't want that sort of thing in the Netherlands."
Retrial for terrorist case
A number of today's papers report that Dutch prosecution authorities are going to get another crack of the whip at what proved to be one of their most high-profile failures. The latest ruling from the Supreme Court says seven members of the Hofstad Group will have to stand trial again on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation.
The Muslim extremists from The Hague ('Hofstad' means 'royal-residence city') included Mohammed B, who is serving life for the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh in 2004.
Today's says the highest court in the land has quashed an appeal court decision that the network the young men belonged to was too loose a group to be termed a terrorist or criminal organisation.
The lower court has also been ticked off for dismissing the counts of incitement to hatred. Trouw reports that the seven are also likely to be tried again on the hatred charges.
Three Rs too hard for weak pupils
The Protestant daily Trouw often highlights aspects of Dutch education and today is no exception. Its front-page lead has implicit criticism of politicians' pronouncements on improving the three 'Rs': reading, writing and arithmetic.
The paper says the government is planning to introduce new minimum requirements for language and arithmetic in the summer. Trouw has questioned 15 head teachers in preparatory vocational education for 12 to 16-year-olds (VMBO). They are worried the new basic academic levels are being put too high for weak pupils.
The new VMBO requirements encapsulate the language and arithmetic levels the government deems "every citizen needs to function in society". They will be part of final secondary school exams in 2014. Education professionals are worried that the new academic requirements will mean many students will fail to get their basic qualifications.
At present, even academically weak students can get through their VMBO exam and go on to follow vocational training and find a trade that suits them. As one head teacher puts it: "A plus or a minus in language or arithmetic isn't going to change the world as far as these pupils are concerned".
Government drugs bust-up
"Drugs split coalition" screams De Telegraaf's headline today. The mass-circulation daily says the Christian Democrats (CDA), the largest party in the ruling coalition, wants tough new measures to target Dutch 'coffeeshops'.
The outlets are allowed, under strict regulation, to sell small amounts of marijuana and hash. However, production and supply of the drugs remains illegal, completing what many regard as the classic Dutch legal fudge.
The paper reports that the ultimate aim of CDA politicians is to recriminalise the sale of marijuana altogether and close the coffeeshops down. One CDA MP tells the paper that she hopes sentences for the production of soft drugs will be raised to equal those for producing hard drugs.
Coalition partner, Labour (PvdA), however, is dead against any toughening of the law and is actually pushing for the supply of marijuana to the coffeeshops to be regularised.
"You know it's being sold. It's stupid to put forward these kinds of measures, if you don't allow a normal way of supplying it" argues a Labour MP. She goes on: "Coffeeshops should be made regular and transparent businesses so there's no place any more for organised crime."
Construction workers in the cold
Finally, the AD has managed to find a new angle on the severe winter weather. In a gloomy front-page lead, it warns that thousands of construction workers are set to lose their jobs as a direct result of the recent cold weather.
Many firms, especially smaller outfits specialising in outdoor work such as brick-laying and roofing, have not been able to carry on working through the freezing conditions. However, they have had to continue paying wages and many are facing the threat of bankruptcy.
"If the sub-zero temperatures go on for another week," a building sector insider tells the paper, "hundreds of companies will go under. That will mean thousands of construction workers losing their jobs."