The Hillary Clinton email affair had parasitized the entire campaign of the Democratic candidate for the 2016 US presidential election. Will the deleted SMS affair cost the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, his job? ? Specifically, the question is whether or not he broke the law by deleting text messages.
The “Nokiagate” – as the Dutch media call it, in reference to the retro model of Nokia-branded phone used by Mr Rutte – broke out following the publication of an article in the daily From Volkskrant, Wednesday, May 18. The Dutch newspaper explains that it discovered this information while seeking to access government communications in 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Prime Minister, whose attachment to his old Nokia has long stuck to his image as a sober man, defended himself on Wednesday, explaining that he had archived all important messages and deleted the others in order to free up space.
“I complied with the guidelines”, told reporters Mr. Rutte, nicknamed the “Prime Minister in Teflon” (an extremely resistant material) by the media for his ability to survive scandals. Head of government since 2010 – a record – the 55-year-old Liberal was also baptized “Mister Silicone” by a daily newspaper: he has the flexibility of rubber and is resistant to temperature variations. It is true that “Makke” Rutte (“the docile”, another nickname) has managed to govern successively with the right, the center and the left over the years. He even managed to lead the country for two years with the tacit support of his far-right rival, Geert Wilders.
In defence, the Prime Minister stressed that he had not broken the law on archiving, insisting that he had “never deliberately” hid important business by deleting messages. “I may have made an error in judgment, but mistakes will always be made”he added.
“Not a big fan of smartphones”
According to the Dutch Archives Act, certain government correspondence must be kept in order to be able to explain to the public – including MPs and journalists – why certain choices were made. The problem, explains From Volkskrantis that Mr. Rutte was the only one to determine which text messages were important enough to be passed on to a government official for archiving.
In 2020, the daily launched legal proceedings to gain access to the Prime Minister’s messages, building on a ruling the previous year that SMS and WhatsApp messages were included in the Archiving Act. But the newspaper was surprised to have only received messages sent by the head of government to his staff and asked for more information.
“It is the behavior of a prime minister who is frantically trying to prevent transparency”reacted the leader of the environmentalist party, Jesse Klaver, adding that he wanted to ask the operator if the text messages could be recovered.
A lawyer representing the Dutch state said that Mr Rutte had made a “real-time archiving” and that there was no reason to suspect a crime.
The Prime Minister, who is not “not a big fan of smartphones” in his words, and known for his sobriety and his bike rides through The Hague, explained that he kept his old model phone as part of his duties. ” The small screen [du Nokia] is a disadvantage”he admitted to the press on Wednesday.
The thousands of messages received by Mr. Rutte have, he says, slowed down the device, which is why he began to delete some.
His press officers have meanwhile confirmed that he now has a smartphone, as his old phone had no network during a visit to the United States.
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