Mafia-style murders shock the Netherlands in the fight against descent into ‘narco state’ | Organized crime

Journalists and lawyers under protection or murdered on the street, court hearings guarded by the military, anonymized witness statements and billions in dirty drug money seeping through society, perpetually pernicious.

This is the Netherlands, where these facts have now led to a crackdown of some €500 million a year against a level of organized crime that politicians fear is increasingly “undermining” public order.

The mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam warn of a “culture of crime and violence that is gradually becoming Italian”, with record amounts of drugs intercepted in the port of Rotterdam, extreme violence often killing the wrong target, and €15 billion to €30 billion per month. years laundered in real estate, cannabis “coffee shops”, tourism and bars. Allegations that the country, better known for its tolerance and fiscal austerity, has the hallmarks of a “narco-state 2.0” are now being taken extremely seriously.

“We will never have as much money as the criminals facing us, but there has never been so much structural money to deal with them, from prevention to disrupting business models, punishing people and protecting those on the front lines.” Justice Minister Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius said in parliament.

“Those sums can only be earned if the underworld infiltrates and settles into the legitimate world: on the streets of shops, business parks, our real estate agents and lawyers,” she said.

The Dutch government announced last Monday a new international cooperation against criminals who ship cocaine from South America through the ports of Rotterdam and nearby Antwerp in Belgium. Politicians also want to scrutinize ‘facilitating’ companies, expand crown witness schemes, delve into opaque financial structures and offer vulnerable youth in 16 neighborhoods better options than crime.

Paul Vugts, a crime reporter for Amsterdam paper It password, who has lived under police protection for six months after receiving death threats, said it was high time for action. “It cost the murder of a crime blogger, the innocent brother of a key witness against… [alleged drug gang chief] Ridouan Taghi and others, then the lawyer of the witness Derk Wiersum, and last summer my colleague Peter R de Vries, the official confidant of the crown witness. We don’t have a mafia like Italy, but this kind of violence is mafia-esque. It is terror.”

Hans Nelen, professor of criminology at Maastricht University, agrees. “Let’s face it, when we had the murder of Peter R de Vries, the famous journalist, it resulted in a shock wave,” he said. “Political speaking, it has woken up. We have no empirical evidence that corruption has endemicly polluted the system [but] we see serious mistakes.”

Police at the site of the Amsterdam shooting in July 2021 of investigative journalist Peter R de Vries, who later died of his injuries.
Police at the site of the shooting in Amsterdam in July 2021 of investigative journalist Peter R de Vries who later died. Photo: Evert Elzinga/EPA

A serious crime unit, the Multidisciplinary Intervention Team, is under overhaul and recent investigations have shown holiday parks where criminals may launder money, suspicious private art galleries, shady transport companies and corruption at Schiphol. Banks have already been sanctioned for complicity in money laundering, and accountants and law firms are next. The cracking of encrypted telephone services has led to dozens of leads and arrests – most recently of suspected drug criminal Mink K in Lebanon. Prosecutors and courts last week demanded life in the mass murder trial of Marengo. Meanwhile, the mayor of Rotterdam is lobbying to have all fruit containers in the port scanned – and for more than the 10 million euros that companies have pledged to help fight corruption.

In Rotterdam, companies train 2,800 employees to combat corruption and intimidation. Bas Janssen, director of the Deltalinqs port association, points out that customs, police and security companies are also sometimes involved in collecting cocaine from containers. “The mayor of Rotterdam knocks on the door and says it is an urgent matter, but we have to do it together,” he adds. “Companies within ports operate in a very competitive environment, it costs a lot of money, so we need a North/Western European approach.”

Another initiative is neighborhood youth intervention. Sharon Dijksma, mayor of Utrecht, believes every teenager rescued is a victory, even though her share of a €82 million budget may not be enough.

“Perhaps disadvantaged youth from multi-problem families, who often face personal challenges, are incredibly vulnerable to the clutches of criminals. So you need credible messengers, people who have seen it all before, who speak their language – and who can motivate and even discipline them to go back to the right side of the street,” Dijksma said.

Keeping at-risk children at home would help, according to forensic psychologist Thimo van der Pol, who is testing a New Zealand-inspired family intervention model in Amsterdam.

“It’s very difficult to interact with high-risk families because they fear their child will be kicked out of the house,” he said. “It is a social problem. Parents are addicted, there is poverty, extreme inequality, racism, debt, but the child must also have a predisposition to develop these problems.”

While Dutch criminal gangs use the “Mocro [Moroccan] Mafia” and ethnic minorities are overrepresented as crime suspects, CBS researchers say racial background is less important than age, education level and socioeconomics. Some believe that to tackle criminal recruitment, the Dutch should tackle racial discrimination in the benefit system and the labor market, plus a gymnasium system in which children from lower socio-economic groups and children with a non-Western background are unequally represented.

Ruşen Koç, a coordinator at Labyrinth, a social research agency, founded the OOK foundation to advise parents in helping their child at school. “Cultural background is very relevant in the Netherlands,” he says. “It starts with school advice at the age of 11, manifests itself in the internship market where students with a migration background are more often rejected, and eventually finds its way into the labor market. To prevent young people from committing crime, we must be able to offer them a better alternative.”

Others want to tackle drug use, which is prepandemic in Europe, while cocaine use has increased in the Netherlands.

Conversely, the political think tank DenkWerk argues in favor of legalizing cannabis and ecstasy completely, while cracking down on cocaine. Lawyer Peter Schouten believes the country should go further: “The only solution is for the United Nations to consider throwing out the 1961 drug treaty and say: let’s see how we can legalize soft drugs and regulate hard drugs,” he said.

Karin van Wingerde, professor of corporate crime and governance at the Erasmus School of Law, warns that heavy-handed money should not be wasted on overorganization or naive ideas. “If we try to focus on lawyers as key witnesses, there is no incentive at all as long as there is a risk of lawyers being killed in broad daylight,” she said.

Whether the multi-year budget will survive the competing demands of climate and economic issues and a housing crisis is another question, says Vugts van The Parool

But Justice Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius sends a message. “I have no illusions that we are going to eradicate crime,” she told MPs.

“But I want the Netherlands to be so unattractive that they think: ‘I don’t want to go there.’”

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