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Prince gives up throne for love
'Mabelgate': Fiancée denies she was a gangster's lover 15 years ago
Saturday, October 11, 2003
Prince Johan Friso of the Netherlands has decided to renounce his rights to the Dutch throne in order to marry a beautiful, blond human rights worker with a whiff of scandal in her past.
The 35-year-old Prince, who was second in line to the throne, said yesterday he would give up his right of succession because he could not win government approval for his planned marriage to Mabel Wisse Smit, a former Balkans expert with the United Nations, alleged to have had a love affair with a notorious Dutch gangster 15 years ago.
The Prince and his fiancée announced wedding plans in June and plan to marry on April 24.
Ms. Wisse Smit, a 35-year-old economics and political science graduate, has worked for several human rights groups and in 1994 established the European Action Council for Peace in the Balkans. Most recently, she was head of the Open Society Institute in Brussels, part of billionaire financier George Soros's humanitarian network.
Prince Johan Friso, a mechanical and aerospace engineer with a background in business, recently worked as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs in London.
Under the Dutch constitution, married members of the House of Orange, the Dutch Royal Family, are eligible to ascend to the throne only if parliament has approved their wedding.
In Ms. Wisse Smit's case, she met Jan Peter Balkenende, the country's Prime Minister, for an initial interview in June and later underwent a cursory background check.
The government then announced it was prepared to introduce legislation approving the marriage.
But rumours surfaced, alleging Ms. Wisse Smit had had an affair with a notorious Dutch gangster and drug kingpin, Klaas Bruinsma.
She denied the allegations, saying she had no more than a superficial relationship with Mr. Bruinsma, whom she encountered at several sailing regattas 15 years ago, when she was a university student.
But two months later, after Dutch newspapers and television stations started to delve into her past, she issued a statement saying she had known Mr. Bruinsma for a few months, but had cut off all contact with him when she learned of "the practices he engaged in."
Mr. Bruinsma was known as the first "godfather" of Dutch organized crime and had a reputation as a ruthless and violent drug dealer. He smuggled tens of millions of dollars worth of illicit drugs into the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Scandinavian countries and Britain.
He was also implicated in several gangland murders and is said to have ordered the execution of one of his bodyguards. The man was later found stuffed in a steel drum filled with cement, after having had his legs and genitals cut off while he was still alive, then being shot in the face at close range.
In 1991, Mr. Bruinsma was gunned down in a gangland shooting in Amsterdam.
As the controversy surrounding the pending royal marriage grew, a Dutch television station tracked down Charlie Da Silva, one of Mr. Bruinsma's bodyguards, who now lives in Chile.
In an interview, the bodyguard claimed Ms. Wisse Smit had been his boss's lover, saying she regularly stayed on the gangster's luxury yacht and had been with him right up until his murder in 1991.
Ms. Wisse Smit denied the allegations, but admitted to spending a few nights on the yacht as a guest. She flatly denied having been intimate with Mr. Bruinsma.
Last week, Mr. Balkenende said he was calling in the Dutch secret service, the AIVD, to conduct a second background check into Ms. Wisse Smit.
In the meantime, public opinion polls conducted by Dutch newspapers showed that 70% of the populace believed the Prince's fiancée was lying. A debate raged over the integrity of a possible future Queen.
On Thursday, some of Ms. Wisse Smith's former colleagues, including Mr. Soros and Bernard Kouchner, a former French Cabinet minister and UN envoy, came to her defence.
In an open letter to the Dutch daily newspaper, De Volkskrant, they wrote: "It is shocking that a person who has done so much for human rights in the world should be treated so badly in her own country because of a dubious accusation about an issue dating back 15 years, when she was in her early 20s.
"As friends and colleagues, we support her totally."
Some of Mr. Bruinsma's associates also rallied to her cause.
Another former bodyguard, Geurt Ross, said Mr. da Silva was "a troll" who had deliberately exaggerated the relationship between Ms. Wisse Smit and Mr. Bruinsma.
The skipper of the yacht also claimed Mr. da Silva was mistaken and "another woman" had a long-term relationship with the gangster.
Finally, Ottolien Lels, a friend of Ms. Wisse Smit, said it was her, "not Mabel," who had had a long-term sexual relationship with the underworld boss.
Yesterday, the Prince moved to end the scandal by renouncing his right to become king and saying he will go ahead with the wedding.
In a letter, the Prince apologized to the government, his mother, Queen Beatrix, the Prime Minister and anyone the couple may have disappointed or hurt.
He said he was aware of the "relevant facts and details" of his fiancée's relationship with Mr. Bruinsma and insisted she was never involved in the gangster's criminal activities or intimately involved with him.
He said the couple had resolved not to be "secretive" about the matter, but intended to release as few details as possible. In hindsight, that decision may have been "naive and unwise," he added.
The line now passes from Queen Beatrix to Crown Prince Willem Alexander and then skips Prince Johan Friso to his younger brother, Prince Constantijn.
Mr. Balkenende said he told the royal family on Thursday his government would not endorse the marriage because Ms. Wisse Smit had given "incomplete and incorrect information, which has damaged confidence" in her.
He insisted he had done everything he could to prevent the controversy from spinning out of control. "But there is no cure against deceit," he said.
"Mabelgate," as the Dutch news media call the controversy, is not the first matrimonial scandal to plague the Dutch royal family.
Last year, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander's marriage to Argentinian Maxima Zorreguieta stirred debate because the bride's father, Jorge Zorreguieta, had served in Cabinet during Argentina's military dictatorship from 1976-83.
Parliament reluctantly approved the match after it determined Mr. Zorreguieta had not been personally involved in any human rights violations during Argentina's "dirty war" against leftists.
Queen Beatrix's own marriage to German-born Claus von Amsberg was marred by protests in 1966, because the former diplomat had belonged to the Hitler Youth during the Second World War.
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