Dutch authorities moved closer toward prosecuting far-right politician Geert Wilders on Thursday, naming him as a suspect and summoning him for interrogation over alleged racist remarks he made in March.
Wilders will be questioned on suspicion of insulting a group on the basis of race and inciting discrimination and hatred, prosecutors said in a statement. If convicted, he could face up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 7,400 euros ($9,400).
Wilders, whose controversial brand of anti-immigration, anti-Muslim populism has propelled his Freedom Party to second place in opinion polls, provoked widespread condemnation when he called for “fewer Moroccans” at a campaign rally in March.
Interrogating a suspect is the final step in the process of bringing charges, prosecutors said. A spokeswoman stressed no decision had yet been taken about charging Wilders but said there was a “significant chance” he would end up in court.
“I’m furious … that I am being investigated by prosecutors and will probably end up in court,” Wilders told journalists in parliament after learning of the summons.
Prosecutors received over 6,400 complaints and several of his party’s most prominent lawmakers resigned from the party after Wilders asked supporters at a rally in The Hague if they wanted “more or fewer Moroccans in this city?” The crowd chanted: “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Wilders smiled and responded: “We’ll take care of that.”
In a later interview with broadcaster RTL Z, he said “Moroccan scum” should leave the Netherlands. Moroccans were over-represented in crime statistics and in the number of people receiving social benefits, he argued.
Wilders, who has lived for many years under 24-hour police protection after receiving death threats because of an anti-Islamic film he made, called the decision to interrogate him “incomprehensible”.
“I’m combative and angry. I said what millions of people feel,” he told reporters. “It’s a scandal that when the world is in flames, prosecutors choose to focus on a lawmaker who points out problems.” Prosecutors should focus on the phenomenon of Dutch citizens going to fight in Syria, “more than three quarters of whom are Moroccans,” he added.
Wilders has a history of statements that upset Muslims and Eastern European migrant workers. He was prosecuted for hate crimes and discrimination in 2007 for calling Islam a fascist ideology but acquitted four years later when a judge ruled that criticising a religion was not the same as racism.
“This time the remarks were directly aimed at a certain population group – all Moroccans are put in the same box,” said prosecution spokeswoman Nicolette Stoel.
The Netherlands, which long prided itself on its liberalism, admitted millions of immigrant workers from Morocco and Turkey to fill jobs in an expanding economy after World War Two. But attitudes have hardened as growth has slowed and jobs have become scarce, propelling a string of anti-immigration politicians to the top of opinion polls over the past decade.