SCANDALS: Havoc In Holland

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Stories about bribe taking by Prince Bernhard had been floating around Amsterdam since last December. At that time Ernest F. Hauser, an American and former Lockheed employee whose credentials include a criminal record (for fraud), charged that the prince had profited royally from sales of Lockheed's supersonic Starfighter to The Netherlands. Bernhard denied the charges; without hesitation, the Dutch placed faith in their beloved prince over the convicted criminal. Last week, however, Dutch Prime Minister Joop den Uyl appeared on television with the announcement that Prince Bernhard was the "high government official" mentioned in the U.S. Senate hearings. The news had the effect of a Starfighter exploding over the Royal Palace. Never before in the history of Holland's 400-year-old House of Orange had a member of the royal family been the target of accusations with such potentially devastating consequences. If the committee appointed to investigate the charges unearths damaging evidence, an Act of Parliament signed by the Queen would be necessary to bring the prince to trial. The nearly universal opinion in The Netherlands is that if that happened, the Queen would abdicate in favor of her intelligent and aloof eldest daughter, Princess Beatrix, 38.

In December Hauser claimed that in 1961 Lockheed paid the prince to help obtain the Dutch government's approval for costly engineering changes that the company wanted to make—and charge for—in Dutch-owned Starfighters. Hauser added that the money had been funneled to the prince through the Swiss bank account of Fred C. Meuser, then Lockheed's European sales director. Bernhard acknowledged a close friendship with Meuser but flatly denied receiving any kickbacks.

Lockheed Vice Chairman Carl Kotchian admitted to the Senate subcommittee that a $1 million bribe for a "high Dutch government official" had indeed been paid into Meuser's Swiss bank account in 1961 or 1962. Meuser, who is now enjoying a comfortable retirement in his posh villa in St. Moritz, told a reporter from the Dutch socialist daily Het Vrije Volk, "I have never transmitted any money to Prince Bernhard. I am willing to go to Holland and confirm this under oath." Where did the money go? "I put it in my own pocket," said Meuser, perhaps a bit too readily.

If Lockheed did try to buy some princely influence, it paid a high price for an uncertain quantity. As Inspector General of the Dutch armed forces, the prince can advise the government on military purchases, but the Defense Minister and the Prime Minister ultimately make the decision. Similarly, as a board member of both Fokker Aircraft Co., which was licensed to assemble the Starfighters in Holland, and KLM, the prince was in a position to influence but not authorize purchases.

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