The province of Limburg is investigating the sale of more than four hectares of provincial land to the father of a provincial official. At the end of 2015, the ground would have been sold for amounts below the usual price level.
On December 29, 2015, the province sold three plots of land near the hamlet of Benzenrade in the municipality of Heerlen to farmer Guus Huynen who lives there. He sold the plots on the same day to Leo Steinbusch. His son Loek Steinbusch is employed by the province as a steward, responsible for the management of provincial land.
In both transactions, a total of 12,736 euros was paid for the more than four hectares, while market prices were between 7,500 and 12,000 euros per hectare. The terrain is largely suitable for extensive farming (livestock grazing and haymaking). Landowners receive subsidies for this kind of nature-friendly management. In Limburg these were paid for by landscape organization IKL.
This foundation recently went bankrupt, after former director Herman Vrehen was discredited last March. This issue led to the resignation of the provincial government. The acting commissioner of the king Johan Remkes (VVD) who subsequently took office established a hotline for possible irregularities, violations of integrity or conflicts of interest in public administration. The case concerning the steward is – as far as is known – the first with a leading role for a provincial official.
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‘No objection from the province’
Loek Steinbusch, who is not only a steward at the province but also owner of an agricultural brokerage, says when asked that he has never owned the land and refers to the province for comment. In response to questions from the Party for the Animals faction, the Board of the Provincial Executive wrote on Thursday that it found it “inappropriate” to “deal with the actions of individual officials in the service of the province” in public. The province has, however, ordered a reconstruction of the facts.
Farmer Huynen, who sold the land immediately to the father of the provincial official, says that he was offered the plots but could not do anything with them. “I already have a lot of land and it was too much for me. Leo and Loek Steinbusch were eager to have the land. I called the county land sales department to ask if I could resell it to them? They had no objection to that. But they refused to give official permission. Later, the province wanted to reverse the sale, but I didn’t want anything to do with that.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of July 23, 2021