30th of August 2009 Author: Glo Wood
As a British bank with substantial Netherlands interests, what do you do when Dutch politicians start giving orders?
A British banking row over Dutch online gambling that has been simmering since early this year surfaced again this week as rumours circulated that another bank may be about to join the Royal Bank of Scotland in apparently taking directions from Dutch politicians.
Complicating the issue, there appears to be some uncertainty over whether the Dutch demand that British banks refuse to process online gambling transactions to Dutch residents is backed by appropriate Dutch legislation.
Fiery Dutch minister of justice Ernst Hirsch Ballin ignited the furore earlier this year when he wrote to British banks hinting that the Dutch government could resort to legal measures if its requests to cut off online gambling transactions with Dutch residents were not met.
The intriguing issue of whether there is Dutch legislation actually backing his implied threat is still live. At the time, Dutch gaming law expert Justin Franssen, succinctly pointed out: “The minister literally said that if he finds out that the letter to the banks is having no effect then he intends to put legislation in place. He is admitting that there is no legislation – no legal basis – for this. ”
Even Dutch justice ministry officials appeared uncertain, surmising that the issue might be covered under the Gambling Act of 1964's clauses regarding "stimulating participation" in gambling generally, or by a Dutch Supreme Court ruling that prohibits entities from helping online operators carry out any illegal business.
And a source within the ministry admitted that the European Commission was unlikely to be happy with the unilateral attempt to impose a Dutch ban on companies within another EU member nation.
It is understood that the Dutch still face a legal challenge on the issue from the UK-based betting exchange giant Betfair, too.
Nevertheless, the Royal Bank of Scotland, now 70 percent owned by the British taxpayer following its near-failure after the sub-prime mortgage debacle, agreed to comply, possibly because it reportedly has substantial Dutch interests. It is understood that the Dutch government had earlier selected RBS as its primary bank for financial transactions, giving RBS responsibility for around 66 million transactions per year.
But RBS appeared to be the only British bank prepared to accept Dutch direction, until last week, when rumours surfaced that Barclays Bank may be prepared to submit to the Dutch requirements as well.
Reports in the Dutch media that the Brits were sending a political mission to the Netherlands to discuss the issue were denied by British government officials, and Barclays appeared to be stonewalling, saying only that it would ensure its clients were aware of the provisions of the Dutch Gaming Act, a relic from 1964 which has little relevance to conditions pertaining today.
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