State Secretary of Finance De Jager has been ordered to rectify a remark he made in a broadcast of the TV show De Wereld Draait Door on 5 November 2009 on the front page of four national newspapers. This follows from a recently published judgment of 20 November 2009 of the Court of The Hague in preliminary relief proceedings.
At the end of October, beginning of November 2009 it was made public that the Dutch tax authorities had concluded an agreement with an anonymous person, under which that person would receive tip-off money in exchange for providing information about hundreds of bank accounts kept abroad by Dutch tax subjects. The claimant, attorney and tax consultant Bharatsing, announced in De Telegraaf on 5 November 2009 that he would bring preliminary relief proceedings against the Ministry of Finance about the tackling of the tax evaders.
De Jager in De Wereld Draait Door
This announcement received attention in De Wereld Draait Door, where De Jager was a guest. Prior to the broadcast an interview with Bharatsingh had been filmed, which was shown to De Jager. In that interview Bharatsingh said the following: “(…) If Kees de Jager, Mr. Kees de Jager, wants to collect the data by paying money to people who will provide him with stolen data, then I think that Mr. Kees de Jager himself is guilty of a criminal offense. I think that the payment of a reward to the informer by Kees de Jager does not fit into our system. Because if you start paying people for pinching data – and start rewarding them – that does not fit into our democratic system.”
The State Secretary reacted irritably to this: “Of course we have sorted this all out very well. So this gentleman who, as I have understood, writes in the paper that he advises such black savers in some cases simply to keep working illegally, erm… but now the thing is that we have expressly asked the Government Attorney twice, and the Public Prosecution Service (…)”.
Bharatsingh took offense over the fact that he was portrayed as someone who advises clients to work illegally. The court agreed with Bharatsingh that this went too far: “First and foremost, the quote from De Telegraaf mentions nothing about the substance of the advice given by the claimant; no more or less can be understood from it than that he needs information to be able to advise his clients. Furthermore, as part of his advising work an attorney must have the possibility to inform his clients, in view of their personal situation, of the consequences that are attached to the choices they make and, in order to be able to do so, he must have the necessary information. If the foregoing is taken into account, the State Secretary has wrongly interpreted the quote in De Telegraaf in the sense that the claimant made the paper write down that in some cases he advises his clients to continue working illegally; there might be persons who choose, after the claimant has given his advice, not to provide openness to the tax authorities, but it cannot be deduced from this that the claimant had De Telegraaf take down that in some cases he advises his clients “just” to keep working illegally.”
According to the court, the state secretary has to be aware of the fact that great value is attached to his opinion, especially in a program with such a large audience as De Wereld Draait Door has. This reasoning of the court led to the rather severe order to publish a rectification on the front page of four national newspapers.