More arrests likely after huge crystal meth facility found in Netherlands

Laboratory producing €1m of illegal drug daily uncovered via messaging app ‘sting’

Dutch police expect more arrests following the discovery of what they say was the biggest and most professional crystal meth laboratory ever in the Netherlands – capable of producing 100kg of the drug a day, seven days a week.

The heavily armed raid last Friday near the village of Nederweert, in the southern province of Limburg near the German and Belgian borders, came as a result of information from an encrypted messaging app used by criminals who believed their communications were secure.

Although they did not disclose the specific app, Dutch police and the European policing agency Europol, based in The Hague, were part of a global sting orchestrated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in June by creating the bogus "custom-made" Anom encrypted phone network.

Encrypted service providers, EncroChat and SkyECC, were shut down in 2020 and earlier this year respectively – in order to create a gap in the underworld market where compromised Anom phones would be even more sought after than usual.


Farm sheds

Crystal meth labs are frequently constructed from enormous shipping containers buried as deep as six metres underground, but in this case the drugs were manufactured in two large connected farm sheds, in a rural area well away from the nearest residents.

According to the national dismantling support group, police scientists who specialise in “rolling up” such facilities with forensic care in anticipation of court proceedings, this was “the biggest and most professional” crystal meth lab they had ever encountered.

It was capable of making 100kg of the drug a day, was likely to work seven days a week, generating product worth about €1 million a day if sold within the drug-dealing “trade”. The value of 100kg on the street in Amsterdam would be multiples of that amount.

Violent turf war

One man, a 62-year-old Polish national, was arrested at the scene. After completing their forensic examination on Sunday, a police spokesperson said they expected more arrests.

What the police did not yet disclose was whether they believe the lab was part of a homegrown drugs network or one of an increasing number operated by Mexican drug cartels who've been elbowing in on the lucrative export trade to western Europe.

Fears of a violent turf war have led to more police activity. The first crystal meth lab was discovered in the Netherlands in 2015. In 2020, police closed down 32, three times the figure for 2019.

That increase in its popularity is based purely on economics: crystal meth generates roughly 10 times the profit of ecstasy.

The Netherlands's neighbours have been complaining for years. As long ago as 2017, Austria's interior minister, Wolfgang Sobotka, said it was time for the Dutch to "get serious" and "improve co-operation".

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