Dutch PM Mark Rutte blasted for deleted messages in 'Nokiagate'

Dutch PM Mark Rutte blasted for deleted messages in 'Nokiagate'
Credit: European Parliament / Flickr

Dutch lawmakers are holding a parliamentary debate on Thursday after a media report detailed how Prime Minister Mark Rutte had deleted a string of messages on his old Nokia phone without inspection.

Dutch law requires government officials to save correspondence so it can be reviewed under the Government Information Act. A review is no longer possible as the deleted messages cannot be retrieved.

Local media are calling the case 'Nokiagate' due to the outdated phone that Rutte used. The story was broken by the Dutch paper de Volkskrant.

Politicians are asking Rutte to send a letter explaining his actions at the hearing. In addition to protests from the opposition parties, his coalition parties VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie also are in support of questioning from Greens leader Jesse Klaver.

Rutte's explanation

Rutte admitted at a press conference on Wednesday that he had not kept track of all the messages sent and received over the years.

He claims that his outdated Nokia mobile phone was "extremely slow," and that he only sent messages he believed contained relevant content for "administrative decision-making" to officials for safekeeping. He deleted all other messages to prevent his outdated mobile from being overloaded with data.

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The content of those messages can no longer be retried as the provider had said that the text messages couldn't be traced, Rutte told journalists. "I have never consciously withheld important matters," Rutte said, adding that "I’m not a big fan of smartphones" but after his latest scandal, admits that he would now switch to one.

A lack of transparency

For the opposition, the believe the latest scandal shows that Rutte has little interest in creating a culture of transparency in the government. It is a sensitive issue as Rutte's cabinet has previously promised to make the workings of the government more clear after a series of incidents.

In January 2021, the Dutch government led by Rutte, resigned over a scandal concerning child benefits in which over 20,000 families were wrongly accused of fraud by tax authorities.

In April 2021, Rutte was accused of covering up attempts to silence an outspoken politician during coalition talks.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte narrowly survived a no-confidence vote over claims he lied about coalition talks.

Rutte, dubbed the 'Teflon premier' for his ability to evade scandals, has previously been embroiled in a texting scandal after a message from Unilever CEO Paul Polman had 'disappeared'. Yet that hasn't stopped him from being caught up in the latest texting scandal involving text messages.

"The prime minister erased his hard drive … at the end of each day. Perfect way to deny any problem you were involved in," said Socialist Party leader Lilian Marijnissen on Twitter.

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