Business

Pussy and the prince

MATTHEW HAGAN April 5 1976
Business

Pussy and the prince

MATTHEW HAGAN April 5 1976

Pussy and the prince

While the Lockheed payoff scandals are having little effect on Canada save for provoking unusually lengthy cabinet talks over the purchase of Orion patrol aircraft, the very fabric of Dutch constitutional monarchy is being stretched to the ripping point by allegations of bribes given and accepted by Prince Bernhard. The normally circumspect Netherlands press has seized on the Lockheed affair (involving sales of Starfighter jets) and used it as just cause for probing the affable consort’s personal and financial dealings and, in the process, has leveled charges of other bribes and a love life more suited to the 18th than the 20th century. Among those revelations:

• Bernhard has been implicated in a $ 12-million payoff made 25 years ago to Juan Perón of Argentina plus assorted Argentinian officials to speed the purchase of $100 million in Dutch-made railway cars. As reported by the Amsterdam daily De Telegraaf Bernhard helped clinch the deal (the bribes were approved by both the government and the Dutch State Bank) by chatting up Peron’s wife, Evita, presenting her with a Dutch decoration and giving her a going-away present of $12,000 in gems and jewelry. The bribes were deposited in Peron’s private Swiss bank accounts.

• The Prince has unfortunate choices in friends. Among those listed as members of the 1001 Club (a group which has contributed a minimum $ 10,000 each to the World Wild Life Fund, which Bernhard heads) are a wide selection of businessmen notorious for their shady practices. At least one member is currently in jail. Only once has the club blackballed a member and that was Robert Vesco, the L'.S. millionairefugitive implicated in the ios fiasco. His money was returned.

• Bernhard, in a widely spread and uncontradicted story by De Telegraaf is reported to have had an affair with Helene “Pussy” Grinda, 32, daughter of a Nice surgeon and sister of former French tennis champion, Jean-Noel Grinda. Part of the Lockheed payments the Prince is alleged to have received is said to have been paid to Pussy for the upkeep of her nine-yearold daughter Alexia, rumored to be the Prince’s child.

• The weekly Vrij Nederland has published a report by the oss (a predecessor of the CIA) accusing Bernhard of planning a right-wing coup immediately after World War II. It also spelled out his wartime contact with his brother, Aschwin, an ss officer now working at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, and his Nazi-sympathizing mother, Princess Armgard.

• Lockheed officials have said in sworn testimony that between 1961 and 1962 Prince Bernhard was paid $1.2 million through Swiss representatives, although this was denied by Lockheed’s European representative, Fred Meuser.

• Lockheed paid a close friend of Prince Bernhard, Hans Gerritsen, $18,000 a year as a special consultant, although he knew very little about aircraft. “The Americans came to me because they were told I was a resistance hero, and that 1 had good contacts,” he told British journalist Anthony Sampson.

Investigating these allegations is a threeman government-appointed commission, dubbed the “three wise men.” But there too there are hints of impropriety. One of the commissioners is Marinus Holtrop, who was president of the Dutch National Bank at the time the bribes were paid to Perón and other Argentinians. He is assumed to have approved the transaction. The commission has pressed on in spite of the charges leveled against it and is understood to have been granted full access to the Lockheed documents pointing the finger at Bernhard.

Even university professors and legal experts have joined the scrum of Bernhard critics, pointing out that a guilty Prince would not be liable to prosecution since the bribes were committed more than six years ago and are therefore subject to the statute of limitations. “Even if Lockheed bribery accusations can’t be proved, the Prince’s close friendship with Lockheed’s European sales manager Fred Meuser is enough to damn him,” says constitutional law expert Willem Verkruijsen.

Meuser has been the central character in the question of European bribes. An RAF veteran and former KLM employee, he became Lockheed’s director for Europe, Africa and the Near East, based in Switzerland, in 1954. It was Meuser who recruited Gerritsen, a former Olympic skier, underground leader, and member of a club of exresistance men in which the Prince was active. He also chose an old friend, Hubert Weisbrod, an international lawyer and Swiss banker, as his chief adviser and bagman. Meuser wrote head office that Lockheed’s success in selling its Starfighter jet “was in no small measure due to Weisbrod’s expert counseling and behind-thescenes pulling of strings. Hardly ever did Hubert appear in the open for the support of Lockheed’s interests; practically all of his constructive work was done discreetly, indirectly.”

Gerritsen and his friend the Prince were also involved with another aircraft company, Northrop Aviation. In 1971, a Northrop memo reveals, the company wanted to hire a new consultant in The Netherlands and its first thoughts were to ask Bernhard’s advice. The chief job of the consultant would be to lobby Dutch politicians.

The three-man commission is not due to make its final report on the Bernhard allegations for another two months and in the meantime the Prince is maintaining a low profile. He has canceled a month-long trip to Latin America planned for April. The official reason is that he must stay at home to aid the “three wise men.” Unofficially, the government has persuaded him to stay out of the limelight. Now King Gustav of Sweden has canceled his June state visit to The Netherlands, ostensibly because of his upcoming wedding to Silvia Sommerlath. Significantly, a date for a new visit has yet to be fixed.

While Bernhard has not been found guilty officially, the Dutch press has convicted him of another crime: destroying the illusions of one of Europe’s last monarchies. “His friends are frightened as weasels, running round in circles, trying to escape the tarbrush,” concludes one major weekly.

MATTHEW HAGAN