Dutch purchase of Rembrandt work criticised over tax haven link

Questions raised over move to buy The Standard Bearer for €175m from trust in the Cook Islands

The Dutch government is facing criticism after it emerged that a Rembrandt masterpiece is to be bought by the state from the Rothschild family through a tax haven in the South Pacific.

A debate in the country’s senate heard that the €175m (£145m) purchase of The Standard Bearer would be from a trust located in the Cook Islands whose holding company is located in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, also a tax haven.

The painting, a three-quarter-length self-portrait that was a precursor for the Dutch renaissance’s most famous work, The Night Watch, was loaned to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 2019 for its Rembrandt-Velázquez exhibition.

“The reason we all know this is that this has all been revealed in the so-called Panama Papers and is all publicly available to find out,” said Henk Otten, an independent MP who was previously a member of the rightwing Forum for Democracy.

“How does this transaction relate to the policy of the Dutch government to combat tax avoidance, is our question to the state secretary. SMEs and freelancers who are a day late with their VAT return will immediately receive a hefty fine. Why is the state involved in such constructions?”

Senators have also raised concerns that the government could not be sure of the authenticity of the work or its ownership given the opaque nature of the purchase.

The culture minister, Gunay Uslu, said before a vote in favour of the purchase that the appropriate due diligence had been done. She said: “It is my understanding that it has already been legally established that the person we are buying it from is the right person.”

Of the total price of The Standard Bearer, or De Vaandeldrager, €150m is being provided by the government. The Rembrandt Association and the Rijksmuseum will pay the remaining €25m.

There has also been criticism of the timing of the purchase given the tough times faced by the Dutch arts and culture sector during the Covid pandemic. The minister conceded she felt “uncomfortable” that the sale had come during the pandemic but said it was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take the painting out of private hands.

Once the sale is completed within the next four weeks, The Standard Bearer will tour museums in all parts of the country. Uslu said: “There is no other work from his baroque period in the Netherlands Collection; it is also the prelude to The Night Watch, and Rembrandt distinguishes himself here for the first time as a rebellious artist. Moreover, The Standard Bearer is inextricably linked to the history of the Netherlands.”


Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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