After weeks of speculation about a past affair between his fiancée and a gangster, Prince Johan Friso in effect renounced his right of succession to the Dutch throne yesterday, plunging the country's monarchy into turmoil.
The Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he would not seek parliament's permission for the Prince's marriage to Mabel Wisse Smit, because the couple had given misleading information, in a saga now dubbed the "Mabel moll affair".
The Prince was second in line to the Dutch throne behind his older brother Crown Prince Willem Alexander, but he would have moved one position further from the succession in January when Princess Maxima, Willem-Alexander's wife, is due to have a baby.
For weeks the Dutch royal family has been the focus of national debate over rumours that Ms Wisse Smit had an affair with Klaas Bruinsma. He was a well-known gangland figure, linked to drugs running and contract murders, who was shot dead in Amsterdam in 1991. Now 35, Ms Wisse Smit is a human rights activist, and was head of the Open Society Institute in Brussels which is part of George Soros's humanitarian network. The financier is among those who have supported the couple.
But yesterday Mr Balkenende, said Ms Wisse Smit gave him "incomplete and incorrect" information during a conversation in June. In a letter now released to the public Ms Wisse Smit admitted she had more than a superficial relationship with Bruinsma while she was a student.
While she still denies having an affair with the gangster, her change of story was too much for the Prime Minister who discovered he had been misled last week. Yesterday Mr Balkenende said that the loss of trust in Ms Wisse Smit was "not good for the royal house", though he refused to characterise the affair as a crisis.
Nevertheless Mr Balkenende said that the cabinet was unable to approve the marriage or recommend it to parliament as it is constitutionally obliged to do. That forced the prince, a 35-year-old banker based in London, to choose between abandoning his claim to the succession or ditching his bride.
In a letter Johan Friso said that he and his fiancée "decided not to try to conceal her contacts with Bruinsma, but to give as few details as possible. We were hoping to prevent what has now happened: the recall of painful memories that Mabel had hoped were long past. In the past weeks it has become clear to us how naive and unwise this decision was."
The "Mabel moll affair" burst into the public arena when a reporter interviewed Charlie da Silva, a former bodyguard of the murdered gangster, who claimed that Ms Wisse Smit had a sexual relationship with the drugs baron and was aware of his criminal activities. Ms Wisse Smit later admitted she had spent several nights on Bruinsma's luxury boat but denied any intimacy, claiming she was a victim of mistaken identity. A 36-year-old woman, Ottolien Lels, came forward and admitted to having had a sexual relationship with Bruinsma, arguing that her friend Ms Wisse Smit was being wrongly accused. But more witnesses emerged who claimed Ms Wisse Smit was regularly seen with Bruinsma.
The scandal is bad news for the royal family which has been plagued by bad publicity. Willem Alexander raised a storm when he married Maxima because her father was a minister in Argentina's military junta. Then there was a bitter public argument between Queen Beatrix and a niece, Princess Margarita.
But Johan Friso and Ms Wisse Smit still intend to marry, on 24 April.