Murder of Derk Wiersum also ‘an attack on the rule of law’

Edition 31 October 2019, by Seringe S.T. Touray

Derk Wiersum, lawyer of crown witness Nabil B. against infamous cocaine-dealing criminal Ridouan Taghi, was murdered on 18 September. The most obvious motive was an act of intimidation and an attack on the rule of law, presumably orchestrated by Taghi.

While the murder may have been meant to dissuade Nabil B. from testifying against Taghi, it also sends a clear message to the Dutch legal system and to lawyers involved in the case against Taghi. As a result, acting Dean of the Amsterdam Bar Association Simeon Burmeister fears that it will now be difficult finding a lawyer for the witness, who nevertheless has the right to a proper defence.

Nabil B. is a former criminal affiliate of Ridouan Taghi, the infamous Dutch criminal of Moroccan descent tied to various drug-related criminal activities and murders. After having been apprehended by Dutch officials, Nabil B. eventually agreed to testify against Taghi in exchange for a reduced prison sentence, only 12 years. Since then, Nabil’s brother, who was completely innocent, was murdered in cold blood, presumably by members of Taghi’s gang. The murder was followed by the execution of Nabil’s lawyer Wiersum, leading to an increase of Nabil’s security detail in a heavily guarded wing of Vught prison. Currently, Taghi, who has managed to stay under the radar for years without being captured, is believed to be abroad. He is the Netherlands’ most wanted criminal, with €100,000 offered to anyone offering information leading to his capture.

Since Wiersum’s murder, there have been questions as to whether Wiersum received adequate protection during his legal defence of Nabil B., considering the level of criminal activity involved. Paul Vugts, a crime reporter at newspaper Het Parool who has been writing about the Taghi case for years, and frequently spoke with Wiersum, says there was never any visible protection present around the deceased lawyer. According to Vugts, protection, if any, was inadequate. He heard that extra police surveillance was taking place in the neighbourhood where Wiersum lived, but that was all. In analysing the events surrounding Wiersum’s death, Vugts asserts that Taghi wants to hit the witness, Nabil B., and everyone closely associated with him, in order to prevent him from testifying.

Associate Professor of Criminal Law Sven Brinkhoff (Nijmegen University) also assumes that, just like Nabil’s brother, Wiersum was murdered to ensure that Nabil B. withdraws his testimony against Taghi. Brinkhoff also fears that this series of threats and murders might really dissuade Nabil from giving his testimony as promised; Nabil’s family has already been evacuated from the country for their protection. In relation to Paul Vugts’ statement regarding inadequate protection for Wiersum, Brinkhoff believes no one will really know how much protection was provided, but the takeaway is that it was insufficient.

Wiersum’s colleagues describe him as amiable, driven, intelligent and “a valued colleague”. He studied in Groningen and had been a lawyer since 2003, before working at a large firm in Amsterdam, where was a partner for the past four years. In the years leading to his death, he was focused mainly on serious and organized crime, which led to his involvement in the Taghi case.

Since Wiersum’s murder, dozens of people closely related to the Taghi case have received extra security, confirms NOS. This includes judges and prosecutors, a total of 20 to 30 people. The level of protection varies depending on the person and the significance of their role in the case. While some have had security cameras installed in their homes, others see increased police presence in their neighbourhood. Others even more closely linked to the case are receiving round-the-clock personal security provided by the Royal and Diplomatic Security Service (DKDB) – the same service that offers protection to members of the Dutch Royal Family.

Because lawyers represent one of the pillars of democracy in the Netherlands, Brinkhoff, like many others, calls the murder of Wiersum “an attack on the rule of law”, asserting that it has hit the heart of criminal law. “It is a hard blow to everyone in the country. It has a huge impact,” he added.

Taghi and his lawyers have denied any involvement in the murder of Derk Wiersum