Infamous Dutch cocaine trafficker begins 15-year jail sentence

‘Piet Costa’ built his business through contacts with Colombian cartel

One of the Netherlands’ most infamous cocaine traffickers began a 15-year jail sentence on Tuesday, and could be facing up to 12 years more next month – as the Dutch authorities’ crackdown on drug gangs continues following the shooting dead of a lawyer in 2019 and a journalist last year.

A court in Rotterdam heard how “Roger P” had built his business through contacts with a Colombian cartel, and since then “had a day job” managing his organisation, recruiting co-investors, and seeking out corrupt contacts in private companies and public institutions.

In a written verdict, judges in the case said "P" – better known by his own alias of "Piet Costa" – imported his drugs from Colombia through Rotterdam and Antwerp, a route identified by Europol last year as having overtaken the previously preferred southern route through Spain.

Alongside Costa, who was convicted of importing cocaine, money laundering, and participation in a criminal organisation, six others were sentenced to between three and eight years in prison. Two men were acquitted.

Costa was arrested in mid-2020 following a four-year undercover investigation into a shipment of more than 3,700kg of cocaine that was intercepted in Rotterdam in 2016.

Having led what the judges said was “a life of luxury” by “staying under the radar”, he was identified when a Franco-Dutch police operation hacked into the messaging service, EncroChat – primarily used by organised criminals and now defunct.

Dutch police chief Janine van den Berg gleefully described the results of the hack at the time as “like sitting at a table where the criminals are chatting among themselves”.

In his EncroChat messages, Costa talked freely about smuggling large quantities of drugs – and even attached images of multiple blocks of cocaine.

During the court case his lawyers challenged the use of the EncroChat data in evidence, claiming it was obtained illegally. The judges, however, ruled that it was acceptable.

In a separate case, prosecutors have asked for a 12-year sentence for Costa in connection with the discovery of seven shipping containers converted into cells and torture chambers, discovered between Rotterdam and Antwerp near the Belgian border in 2020.

That discovery of the “underworld prison”, which drew worldwide attention, was also linked to the EncroChat hack.

The containers had been soundproofed and detectives discovered police clothing, bulletproof vests, balaclavas, scalpels and pruning shears. In one, there was a dentist’s chair with straps and handcuffs.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court