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How the Netherlands became a narco state

Senay Boztas, Unherd



A hit squad compared to a “well-oiled murder machine”. A lawyer and journalist shot on the streets of Amsterdam. A blasé approach to killing the wrong person — there’s even slang for every accidental victim: a vergismoord. Welcome to the Marengo trial, where 17 men stand accused of involvement in six murders, four attempted murders and preparing for six others between 2015 and 2017.

Fear hangs in the air around this court case, telling a tale of a country where the hydra of organised crime has so many heads that it is threatening the very rule of law. When the trial resumed this month, journalists were asked to sign agreements not to name judges or prosecutors, for fear of them being targeted. After reports that co-chief suspect Ridouan Taghi was planning a jailbreak, the streets around the fortified courtroom known as the Bunker are ringed with police cars and trained teams made up of police and soldiers.


The Marengo is only the latest in a series of organised crime trials to shake the Netherlands. This year, Dutch courts are also trying alleged criminal druglord Roger P., accused of turning shipping containers into an underworld prison, with its own gruesome “torture chamber”. Meanwhile, a Marengo side-trial involves motorbike club Caloh Wagoh members charged with shooting dead five people, preparing three other murders and “putting another seven people on the waiting list to be killed”.


“I call The Netherlands a ‘narco-state 2.0’,” says Jan Struijs, chairman of the Nederlandse PolitieBond police union. “We aren’t Mexico, with 14,000 dead bodies, but in our parallel economy, there is an attack on public order and unprecedented numbers of people with personal security — politicians, judges, prosecutors, police staff, journalists — because there is still a serious risk from organised crime. It is a huge problem, being tackled on every front, but we have a long way to go.”

Struijs first raised concerns that this small, well-connected trading nation has “characteristics of a narco-state” four years ago. At the time, there was a muted political response. But then the brother of the Marengo crown witness Nabil B was shot dead and the crown witness’s original lawyer, Dirk Wiersum, was gunned down outside his house. Finally, last July, celebrated crime reporter Peter R de Vries, who had unconventionally agreed to act as Nabil B’s representative, was shot in the head on a busy central Amsterdam street and died of his wounds.

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