Dutch Labor Party leader Lodewijk Asscher quit his post Thursday over a scandal in which thousands of parents were falsely accused of child benefit fraud.
The scandal has rocked Dutch politics and the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte ahead of a general election in March.
The center-left Labor Party (PvdA) is not part of Rutte’s current coalition but was a member of his previous government, on whose watch the scandal occurred.
Asscher was minister of social affairs and deputy prime minister between 2012 and 2017, when around 20,000 parents had child benefit payments stopped or were ordered to repay money amid fraud investigations.
Asscher said in a video message that he does not want discussions about his role in the scandal to hurt the party’s election prospects.
“I fervently hope that a stronger PvdA will be elected on March 17 because I think that is essential for a fair future,” he said, adding that “the discussion about my role at the moment doesn’t make it possible to ensure that.”
“Yes, I was Minister of Social Affairs during the previous large crisis that faced our country. No, I did not know that the Tax Authority started an unjust hunt of thousands of families,” Asscher said.
He said that as minister he had changed a number of laws because they went too far in rooting out fraud, and that he had lowered fines for the same reason.
The Cabinet will decide on Friday on its response to a damning parliamentary report on the scandal.
Rutte has refused to speculate on the future of his administration. But commentators say the entire government could resign to avoid losing a confidence vote in a parliamentary debate on Tuesday. Rutte and his ministers would then stay on as caretakers until a new Cabinet is formed.
In its report in December, a parliamentary committee of inquiry found that “fundamental principles of the rule of law have been violated” in reclaiming childcare support payments from parents who were identified as fraudsters over minor errors such as missing signatures on paperwork.
Families were forced to pay back tens of thousands of euros with no means of redress, plunging many into financial and personal hardship.
Government officials have apologized for the scandal and earmarked €500 million in March last year to compensate affected parents.
Dutch Labor leader quits over false benefit fraud scandal The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Politico.