Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte receives additional security
THE HAGUE – For years, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte cycled or walked to his downtown office, commuting to work like millions of other Dutch people, unhindered by the big boys security details surrounding other world leaders.
For example, an article in a Dutch newspaper this week that police had stepped up security around Mr Rutte after suspicious movements around him by people suspected of being linked to the country’s notorious drug gangs rocked many. people in the Netherlands.
Authorities have refused to officially confirm the report in the newspaper, De Telegraaf, and it is not clear whether Mr Rutte was ordered to stop cycling to work.
“We never say anything about safety and security,” Mr. Rutte told reporters.
However, a police official and a senior Dutch government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that there had been fears for Mr Rutte’s safety. They declined to give details, citing security reasons, but the police official said the security concerns were linked to people involved in organized crime and new measures to protect him had been implemented. earlier this month.
No one doubts that organized crime is present in the Netherlands. The country is a hub for cocaine drug trafficking from South America to Europe. And in recent years, authorities have blamed organized crime for two high-profile murders, most recently the shooting death of a prominent criminal journalist, Peter R. de Vries.
But the question now is whether the prime minister of the country is also a target for gangsters. On this point, opinions are divided.
âThe Dutch lost their naivety about organized crime after the murder of Peter R. de Vries,â said Michel Oz, a policeman and representative of the Dutch Police Association. He said threats against the prime minister showed organized criminal groups “want to signal that they are above the law”.
Others say that while drug trafficking gangs are increasingly willing to attack strangers, the victims are people they see as direct threats to their operations, such as criminal journalists or lawyers, and not politicians.
Damian Zaitch, a professor of criminology at the University of Utrecht who has conducted extensive research on drug trafficking in the Netherlands, said the gangs had little to gain by targeting the prime minister.
âThere is more violence from drug traffickers, who used to kill each other and are now reaching outside circles – families, lawyers,â Zaitch said. âBut drug dealers targeting politicians? Why?”
What is clear, however, is that the escalation of drug trafficking violence in the Netherlands has been a source of growing concern for authorities.
A series of police operations since last year have also highlighted the central position of the Netherlands in the drug trade in Europe, which Europol described in a report this month as the “point of view”. stage of cocaine trafficking on the continent “. The Netherlands is also a center for the illegal production of amphetamines and crystal meth.
Mr Rutte’s government said this month that it will spend an additional 430 million euros, or around $ 500 million, in the coming year to fight organized crime.
Yet the homicide rate in the Netherlands, at 0.6 per 100,000 people, remains well below the average for most developed countries and is in line with that of its European neighbors.
“The high profile murders make the situation spectacular,” said Dina Siegel-Rozenblit, professor of criminology at the University of Utrecht. “But we are not in a narco-state, despite what some in the Netherlands like to say.”
Perhaps as a measure of this, Mr Rutte has appeared in public this week without a visible security presence.
Peter Pronk, the manager of a fish shop next to Parliament and government offices in The Hague, said he saw Mr Rutte walking to work last week and noticed no additional security.
“He had his briefcase and a cup of coffee, as many of us would – except he was asked to take a selfie at the door,” Mr Pronk said.
Adding to the confusion, prosecutors in The Hague said they arrested a local councilor on Sunday for what they called “suspicious behavior” involving Mr Rutte. Although they did not link her to the threat reported in the Dutch newspaper, the arrest sparked speculation that it could be linked.
City councilor Arnoud van Doorn was released on Monday, according to his lawyer Anis Boumanjal, who clarified that Mr van Doorn had been seen on Sunday in places where Mr Rutte was a regular, but that it had been a coincidence . Mr van Doorn is no longer a suspect and the charges against him have been dropped, Mr Boumanjal said on Wednesday.
For years competing drug gangs have carried out sporadic kidnappings and shootings in major Dutch cities, but recent violence has taken things to a new level, culminating in July with the then-Mr de Vries shooting. that he was leaving a television studio.
Mr de Vries has also served as an advisor to a key witness in an ongoing trial in which 17 people, including Ridouan Taghi, suspected of being the head of a drug trafficking organization, are accused of involvement in killings and attempted murders between 2015 and 2017.
Mr de Vries’ murder came after Derk Wiersum, a lawyer for the same witness, was killed in Amsterdam in 2019. The witness’s brother was shot dead in 2018.
“The threshold for carrying out liquidation appears to be lower today than before,” prosecutors said, describing the killings as part of a “well-oiled killing machine”.
In operations they launched last year, Dutch police dismantled several cocaine production laboratories, arrested dozens of suspects and seized record amounts of cocaine.
The increase in drug trafficking through the Netherlands is partly explained by the fact that traffickers in Latin America mainly depend on sea containers to deliver cocaine to Europe, giving a critical role to Rotterdam, the continent’s largest seaport, as well as other large containers. ports like Antwerp in Belgium and Hamburg in Germany.
“Cocaine travels with bananas and coffee, just like traditional Latin American products pass through ports in northern Europe,” said Letizia Paoli, professor of criminology at KU Leuven, a Belgian university.
Europol and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime warn that the booming market for cocaine in Europe, more lucrative than that of the United States, has caused an increase in assassinations, shootings, kidnappings and torture, among other crimes.
This in turn has left law enforcement officials in the Netherlands on the edge, analysts say.
“In Dutch law enforcement, everyone is wondering where this will end and how it will evolve,” said Jan Meeus, criminal reporter for the NRC Handelsblad newspaper which covers drug trafficking in the Netherlands.
Michael schwirtz and Claire Moses contributed to reporting from London.