Prince gives up right to throne for his fiancée

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THE saga of the scandal-prone Dutch Royal Family took a novel twist yesterday, when it was announced that the marriage of Prince Johan Friso to Mabel Wisse Smit, a human rights activist, would go ahead without the endorsement of the Netherlands’ parliament, effectively ending his claim to the throne.

What had started out as a fairytale romance has turned into a tale worthy of the Godfather after it was revealed that, before meeting the prince, Ms Smit had effectively been the "moll" of a known gangster.

When the couple admitted misleading the government over this relationship, the parliament refused to support the marriage.

Prince Johan Friso, 35, a London-based banker, is second in line to the Dutch throne after his brother, Crown Prince Willem Alexander.

Under Netherlands law, the parliament, which bears responsibility for the Royal house, must approve his marriage before the couple can formally join the Royal Family.

Jan Peter Balkenende, the prime minister, said his government could not support Ms Smit, 35, as a member of the Royal Family because during her vetting process, the couple had given ministers "incomplete and incorrect information, which has damaged confidence" in her.

Mr Balkenende said his decision was made at the request of the couple, who announced their engagement in June and plan to marry in the spring.

"This is not good for the monarchy," he added.

The couple have already apologised to Mr Balkenende and to Queen Beatrix for misleading them.

"We were hoping to prevent what has now happened: the recall of painful memories that Mabel had hoped were long past," said Mr Balkenende. "In the past weeks, it has become clear to us how naive and unwise this decision was."

The parliament’s move, while controversial, appears to have the support of the public.

An opinion poll last week showed the majority of Dutch people thought the parliament should not approve the marriage and that Ms Smit was lying about her relationship with Klaas Bruinsma.

Ms Smit had initially told ministers that she had only a passing acquaintance with Bruinsma, a drug lord who was killed during a gangland feud in 1991 for control of his multi-million-pound cannabis and cocaine empire.

However, when Charlie Da Silva, the drug baron’s former bodyguard, alleged that she had had a long-term affair with Bruinsma and that she had been aware of his criminal activities, Ms Smit confessed she had had regular contact with him. She had met him on a sailing trip and was often seen with him at parties.

She did not try to deny the relationship, but the Dutch palace countered by claiming she had ended her ties with the gangster as soon as she had found out "what type of person" he was.

Further embarrassment surrounding her past ensued when it was revealed that Ms Smit later went out with Mohammed Sacirbey, a former Bosnian foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations who is now in custody, charged with misappropriating 1.5 million of public funds.

Ms Smit, who, in common with other new members of the Royal Family, has been the subject of an intelligence service inquiry, worked for Royal Dutch Shell in Malaysia and ABN Amro bank in Barcelona before meeting Sacirbey in New York during the Bosnian war.

She travelled frequently to the Balkans, and set up a non-governmental organisation, the European Action Council for Peace in the Balkans, in 1994.

She and Sacirbey parted company in 1997, before his fall from grace, and she has since run the Brussels office of the Open Society Institute, set up by the international financier George Soros.

But her relationship with Prince Johan Friso had provided a much-needed fillip to the Dutch family - and helped to scotch speculation that the prince might be gay. Speculation on his sexual orientation had been rife, to the point that the palace took the unusual step of issuing a public statement to declare he was heterosexual.

However, although the couple’s relationship is dominating the Dutch headlines, the members of the Royal Family are no stranger to controversy when it comes to marriage.

Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard of Orange-Nassau, now Queen of the Netherlands, first set the trend of upsetting the nation by marrying a German diplomat while memories of the German invasion were still painfully close.

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander’s decision to marry Maxima Zorreguieta caused consternation in the media when it was revealed that her father once held a ministerial post in Argentina’s military dictatorship.

The Dutch security services also investigated Edwin de Roy Van Zuydewijn, who married Princess Margarita, a niece of Queen Beatrix. He was accused of having controversial business interests and of unlawfully adopting the title of baron.

Only the queen’s third son, Prince Constantijn, managed to break with tradition when he married without any hint of scandal.