A Dutch diplomat has lost his position after comments about alleged unethical conduct and corruption indulged in by the country’s businesses operating in Nigeria, a Dutch newspaper has reported.
Hans Smaling, who was Dutch economic envoy to West Africa between 2015 and 2018, was summarily made to leave his office after he complained about how the government and companies from the European country are involved corruption, he told NRC.
“In fact, on behalf of the Dutch government, I had to push the interests of the Netherlands, for example, and indirectly facilitate forms of possible corruption. Ridiculous,” the newspaper quotes the former diplomat as saying.
The new revelation comes not long after another report revealed how a former Dutch ambassador in Nigeria, Robert Petri, was engrossed in similar ethical scandal in a relationship with Shell that officials felt it was too close for comfort.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the NRC, a Dutch online news outlet, reported that at the end of 2017, the Dutch ambassador to Nigeria leaked the confidential information to oil company, Shell.
An investigation into Mr Petri’s tenure as ambassador to Nigeria was prompted by a complaint of integrity received by the country, the report revealed. The leakage of the confidential information fueled tensions at the embassy.
After two internal investigations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalled Mr Petri back to the Netherlands in early 2019. The investigations revealed, among other things, a sick working atmosphere at the embassy.
Several partner organisations complained to the ministry that Mr Petri “was too much on Shell’s hand”.
Mr Petri was found to have shared confidential information about an impending visit by the tax investigative service FIOD to Nigeria at the end of 2017 with the local Shell director. He allegedly did this during a visit with his wife to the man’s residence.
Meanwhile, Mr Smaling said the country is in Nigeria “for itself” and his advocacy for Netherlands to work “on the investment climate, on building the country, on macroeconomic stability, reforms and regulation” did not find favour with authorities at the foreign ministry.
“That was not what the economic envoy’s department wanted to hear,” Mr Smaling reportedly said.
The report said Mr Smaling’s position was created in 2012, after the foreign economic relations department was transferred from Economic Affairs to Foreign Affairs ministry.
The new position was created for ‘promoting the competitive position of the Netherlands’: that of economic envoy / regional business developer. These special envoys were stationed in areas of economic interest to the Netherlands, such as Singapore, Dubai, Lima, Copenhagen and Nigeria.
After 34 years of field service, Mr Smaling knows perfectly well how Dutch business operates abroad, as well as how to facilitate this as a diplomat and how to keep an appropriate distance from it.
The newspaper reported that in most countries, he discovered that Dutch companies can do normal and good business. But not in Nigeria.
An instance was given of the Swiss-Dutch commodity trader, Vitol, which shipped heavily polluted diesel from Rotterdam to Nigeria, which contains up to two hundred times as much sulfur as is permitted in Europe.
“Is that what we want?”Mr Smaling was quoted to have said.
Similarly, from his network, he is said to have received information about large Dutch companies that ‘bought off’ problems with Nigerian customs.
He also heard “persistent rumors, from reliable sources” about Shell, an oil company, that would have left suitcases full of cash to get hold of the OPL 245 mega-oil field off the Nigerian coast.
It is believed the Shell summit at the head office in The Hague would have known about this.
“I pointed this out to the chief public prosecutor in the Netherlands in the autumn of 2017 in a personal conversation. That the Public Prosecution Service really had to look at that. ”
Mr Smaling alleged that going to bed with Shell was not only the making of Mr Petri－he was working on a mandate.
“He was sent out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the assignment to stand squarely in front of the Dutch business community. ” said Mr Smaling.
NRC reports that Mr Smaling warned his executives ‘several times’. He criticised the department and ministers Bert Koenders (Foreign Affairs) and Lilianne Ploumen (Foreign Trade).
He reportedly said: “I wrote a contribution in the weekend folder for the ministers. In it, I addressed endemic corruption in Nigeria. I wrote that I found it strange that the Dutch government facilitates companies that have to deal with corrupt practices. We are not going back to the times of the governor-general in the former Dutch East Indies, Abraham van Riebeeck, who said: “It is immoral but beneficial”. I also mentioned Shell. It was clear that no company – not even Shell – escapes gross corruption in Nigeria. ”
Mr Smaling also spoke regularly with Mr Petri, the ambassador removed from his post in 2019 after he himself leaked secret information about the criminal investigation into Shell to the oil company, as NRC revealed.
The criticism was that Mr Petri was too close to Shell.
Dutch authorities react
But in a reaction, a spokesperson said the Dutch government does not approve of corrupt conducts in Nigeria or elsewhere.
“The Dutch government, including our posts in Nigeria, has a zero tolerance policy on corruption,” the report quoted the spokesperson.
“The core of the Dutch effort is to ensure that economic interests and efforts in matters such as fighting corruption and human rights reinforce each other.
“The ministry welcomes contemplation among colleagues and encourages internal debate. There is no connection between Mr Smaling ‘s critical attitude and his retirement. In consultation with the Ministry, Mr Petri has chosen to refer questions from the press to the Communications Directorate.”