A confined princess and a threatened prime minister: organized crime targets the state in the Netherlands

The suspicion that Princess Amalia of Orange, daughter of King William and Máxima of the Netherlands, is the target of organized crime, has led the Government to drastically reduce her movements, to the point of almost confining her to her home. She leaves to go to university, in Amsterdam, and then returns to the Huis ten Bosch palace, the official residence of the royal family, in The Hague. This was told by her parents last week during an official visit to Sweden.

The Dutch police and Executive remain silent, while security and terrorism experts give credibility to the threat and see it as “highly probable” that the challenge comes from criminal groups linked to drug trafficking. It is an unprecedented qualitative leap in a country in which criminals have gone from settling scores between their members or rivals to challenging democracy. The Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, who often cycles to work, has also had to accept greater protection because of threats to his life.

Mark Rutte, on a street in The Hague on October 14.

Mark Rutte, on a street in The Hague on October 14. 

“This type of threat was considered practically impossible a few years ago,” says sociologist Paul Schnabel on the phone, referring to the situation of Princess Amalia. The heiress to the throne is studying a degree in Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics, and Rutte has assured that she “is doing everything possible to solve the problem quickly.” “Although I cannot guarantee the times”, she has warned.

It is not exceptional that public servants receive some threat for their function or management, but in this case “the ideological element or a clear political objective is missing,” says Jelle van Buuren, a security expert at the University of Leiden. “When the goal is no longer money, but the state, its symbols and institutions, it can be considered a form of terrorism,” he maintains. The reinforcement of security for state representatives began to be noticed in September, when the newspaper De Telegraaf published that “reference was made to the prime minister and the princess in encrypted messages from organized crime about an alleged attack or kidnapping.”

Erwin Bakker, Professor of Terrorism Studies at the same Dutch university, shares his colleague’s opinion. It also seems to him that intimidating the future head of state and the prime minister in this way means “entering a new reality that puts the Netherlands on a par with other states” under threat. “Perhaps we feel far from places like Mexico or Italy, where we have seen mafia crimes, but it is a form of denial of reality. The Government has realized that organized crime threatens the legal order, and that it must invest more in security”.

The murder of De Vries, a turning point

Both experts see the July 2021 shooting death of investigative reporter Peter R. de Vries in central Amsterdam as a turning point. Two material authors of the attack were arrested, but there is still no sentence because three more suspects are being investigated. The deadly assault was filmed by the criminals, and Bakker recalls that the prosecutor has stressed that “one can speak of terrorist intent.” This “forces us to reassess the very definition of terrorism, because we are witnessing a threat against democracy and the rule of law.” It is the first time that a crime of this kind has been classified as a terrorist act. The Prosecutor’s Office considers that “the murder was perpetrated to scare the population.”

De Vries, 64, was the confidant of the prosecution witness in the Marengo case, a trial against alleged members of the so-called Mocro Mafia, dedicated to drug trafficking. Formed by several gangs, its members are Dutch, also of Turkish and Moroccan origin (hence the term Mocro), Antillean, Surinamese, and Albanian. They operate mainly in the ports of Antwerp, in Belgium, and in Amsterdam, although their network of contacts is international. One of its main leaders is Ridouan Taghi, locked up in a maximum security prison in the south of the Netherlands. In 2019 there was another crime related to this environment that shook Dutch society: the murder of the 44-year-old lawyer Derk Wiersum, who defended the same witness who confided in De Vries. Two years later the reporter was killed.

Journalist Peter R. de Vries in Amsterdam, in 2019.

Journalist Peter R. de Vries in Amsterdam in 2019.

The action of organized crime against State authorities extends beyond the border of the Netherlands. Four Dutch citizens were arrested in September in and around The Hague after police found a car with weapons and petrol bottles in Belgium. The vehicle had a Dutch license plate and was found in front of the house of the Belgian Minister of Justice, Vincent van Quickenborne. The Belgian media pointed out that the politician, who spent a few days with reinforced security, had received serious threats from “the world of drugs.”

According to Van Buuren, “organized crime is difficult to fight everywhere, and the Netherlands has a privileged geographical position for the transportation and production of products of all kinds; drugs too.” “We have Schiphol airport and the port of Rotterdam, great connectivity and good roads,” he points out. But until the death of the lawyer and the journalist, Dutch society believed that these types of criminals only killed each other, says the expert. Bakker places the threat of organized crime as one of the country’s main challenges: “The violence of organized crime undermines the democratic legal order,” he stresses.

Both experts call for a national debate because, in their opinion, “the social and crime problem” in the country has not been sufficiently addressed so far, according to Bakker. Van Buuren adds: “There are differences in Parliament regarding the legalization of drugs, but not so on security issues: we have to talk.”

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