Dutch police lose €200,000 in ecstasy sting operation

Briefcase disappears despite being tracked and monitored by police

A huge consignment of 280,000 ecstasy pills was at the centre of the Dutch police operation

A huge consignment of 280,000 ecstasy pills was at the centre of the Dutch police operation


Dutch police are investigating how a briefcase containing more than €200,000 in cash went missing as it was handed over to an international gang of ecstasy dealers – despite being fitting with a tracking device, being monitored from police headquarters and being watched by armed detectives.

It should have been a classic sting operation, based on a tip-off from the Drugs Enforcement Agency in the US, with two Portuguese detectives posing as buyers exchanging the cash for a huge consignment of 280,000 ecstasy pills, but when the dust settled, the money had disappeared.

The Netherlands is known as “the ecstasy capital of the world”. The DEA says some two million Dutch-manufactured pills are smuggled into America every week. Dutch police have been locked in battle with the dealers – dismantling 42 laboratories during 2013 alone, compared to 29 in 2012.

The Dutch National Crime Squad hoped this “deal” would help them to break one of the biggest and most effective networks, but it’s still not clear what exactly went wrong when the “buyers” and sellers met at a well-known motorway hotel near Apeldoorn, in the east of the country.

The exchange was to take place in a hotel bedroom. The cash, €210,500 to be precise, was in a briefcase fitted with a transponder being tracked live from the Crime Squad control room in Driebergen. Outside the hotel were two separate surveillance teams and an armed SWAT team.

As the exchange took place, detectives moved in and made seven arrests. In the confusion, the briefcase disappeared and was later found empty in a village cafe a few kilometres away.

Who took it, nobody knows. Why they were not seen escaping, nobody can explain.

The botched exchange took place a number of months ago, but became public only yesterday, as recriminations continue over how it could have happened given the enormous police resources lavished on the undercover operation – and the embarrassing link to the DEA.

A spokesman for the ministry of justice said that some of the cash had later been recovered “from a suspect”, but confirmed that at least €175,000 was still missing.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for one of the accused has warned that the fiasco could have even more embarrassing implications for any prosecutions arising from the sting, and has insisted that the two Portuguese detectives should also be questioned to establish what went wrong.

“Proving that the money was handed over in exchange for the drugs will be central to this case when it comes to court,” he said. “But payment cannot now be proved because the money, essentially, is gone. At the moment, this looks like a very expensive detection method.”