Edition 30 September 2018, by Jeroen Spangenberg
The mayor of the municipality of Laarbeek in Brabant province, Frank van der Meijden, received death threats late last year. An eighteen-year-old suspect of Syrian background was taken to court last month. According to the court, the offense was ‘a verbal threat of a crime against a person’s life’, which had occurred on 21 December 2017. The mayor is known for his zero-tolerance approach towards illegal practices that undermine the public office.
In fact, almost 25 percent of mayors has received threats from criminals. Two months ago in Limburg province, two men were arrested, charged with threatening the mayor of the Voerendaal by holding a gun to his head in February. Bouke Arends, the mayor of Emmen in Drente, had to go into hiding for three weeks in March 2017. He received death threats after closing down motor club No Surrender in Emmen in January 2017. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice says that No Surrender is not responsible for the threats, but he doesn’t exclude the possibility that the threats were made by a sympathizer of the club. The Dutch Public Prosecution Service recently handed in a request with a judge to close the motor club down permanently. However, motor clubs have chapters in several countries, which can make it more difficult for a mayor to combat local crime.
In August 2015, the mayor of Rucphen in Brabant made headlines when her car burned down during the night in front of her house. The mayor, Marjolein van der Meer Mohr, is certainly not popular in certain echelons of society. Under her command at least 22 drug-producing facilities were closed down. Drugs are a serious problem in Rucphen, as the town is used as a corridor between the harbors of Antwerp and Rotterdam.
In 2011 the former mayor of Helmond in Brabant, Fons Jacobs, had already received death threats and had to go into hiding. He was transferred to Turkey for two weeks and later to Antwerp. When he arrived back in the Netherlands, police with automatic rifles protected his house and he was accompanied everywhere by bodyguards. Shortly before he had received the threats, he had closed down a coffee shop because someone had thrown a grenade into it. It has never been determined whether the threats were related to the closing of the coffee shop.
The Netherlands and Belgium are popular transit countries for drugs, which are then moved internationally through the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. The drugs mostly come from Latin-America; the Netherlands has been particularly close with Surinam. Furthermore, the Rif area in Morocco has historically been a big producer of drugs. Another major producer of opiates is Afghanistan; these drugs eventually also reach Europe. As recently reported by the Dutch media, synthetic drugs alone have a turnover in the Netherlands of almost 20 billion euros, more than the multinational Philips (2017: 17.8 billion euros). The market is thus very profitable, but it is not without risks. Moroccans are famous in the Netherlands for their ‘Mocro wars’, wars between different gangs of drug dealers. Currently, Albanian drug dealers are entering the market and they are not shy to use violence. Still, they try to minimize it, in order not to draw attention from Dutch law enforcement agencies. Criminals not only threaten mayors, but also the Dutch media. Grenades have been thrown and cars blown up near the offices of media outlets Panorama, Nieuwe Revu and De Telegraaf, in order to intimidate journalists.
Minister of the Interior Kajsa Ollongren (D66) recently announced plans to set up a special team and create a budget of 100 million euros to cope with the connections between the under- and upperworld. According to Police Chief of Amsterdam, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, most money from the drugs trade doesn’t stay in Amsterdam, but goes to Dubai, Panama, Spain, Morocco and Brazil. The police, however, sees a trend of drugs money being invested in Dutch real estate, especially in the Amsterdam harbor area. Willem Endstra, the money launderer for the Dutch underworld, owned many properties before he was assassinated in 2004. One thing is clear, the profits are high and the stakes are high as well. However, for mayors this drugs problem creates dilemmas and it sometimes makes their job very hard.