Dutch mayors make impassioned plea for stronger government action against ‘mafia-style’ drug crime

Mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam paint a troubled picture of the Netherlands in written appeal for help

In an unprecedented step, the mayors of the two largest cities in the Netherlands have appealed in writing to the Dutch government to take tougher action against organised drugs crime, warning that it’s assuming mafia-style proportions aimed at “weakening our democratic legal system”.

The joint letter to parliament from Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema, and her counterpart in Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, is a reflection of the apparent vulnerability of one of Europe’s richest societies to the “increasing wealth and power” of its own drugs underworld.

In an observation that may raise a few eyebrows in Rome, the letter underlines the emergence of what it calls “a criminal culture of violence that’s acquiring Italian features” following the killings of lawyer Derk Wiersum in 2019 and crime journalist Peter R de Vries last year.

The Italian reference comes following a fact-finding visit to Rome last week by justice minister Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegeriusilan and D66 MP Franc Weerwind to study the security measures taken since the infamous murders of anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in Sicily in summer 1992.


At the end of their visit, the minister said the murders of the two judges had been a turning point, after which Italian society as a whole had rejected the mafia, creating room for new legislation, particularly Article 416bis, which banned all contact with the outside world for imprisoned mafiosi. That turning point had not yet been reached in the Netherlands, she said. “The outrage was short-lived and the step up to a similar type of action did not take place.”


In their letter, Ms Halsema and Mr Aboutaleb paint a troubled picture of the Netherlands as a country where journalists, lawyers, politicians and holders of public office needed police protection, sometimes 24 hours a day, where homes were being shot at and people attacked.

“This is no longer a matter of short vicious turf wars for control of the drugs trade spilling over into wider society occasionally,” the mayors say.

“The fact is that international drugs trafficking and the money laundering that goes with it are hugely increasing the wealth and power of the drugs underworld, with violent consequences.

“We are now seeing violence as calculated displays of power, with the intention of weakening our democratic legal system.”

Similar warnings have come from Jan Struijs of the police union, NPB, who described the Netherlands as “a narco-state” where drug crime was “rotting the pillars of society”.

Under pressure after the De Vries shooting, then justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus conceded that “excessive violence” against politicians, lawyers or journalists was “no longer a taboo”.

Last month, the Netherlands dropped from six to 28 in the Reporters Without Borders index of journalists’ safety.

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