HomeWorldFeared Dutch drug lord Ridouan Taghi sentenced to life in mega-trial

Feared Dutch drug lord Ridouan Taghi sentenced to life in mega-trial


Related stories


Dutch mob boss Ridouan Taghi and 16 accomplices have been convicted of six murders in a mass trial codenamed Marengo in the Netherlands.

Taghi was acquitted on Tuesday of one of the killings, but handed a life sentence for the rest, concluding the years-long case.

Since being arrested in Dubai – and then extradited – in 2019, the now 46-year-old has been held under maximum security in the Netherlands.

Held in a fortified Amsterdam court known as De Bunker, patrolled by drones and commandos, the trial marks a first in Dutch criminal history – everyone involved, from law enforcement to the forensics team, has been kept anonymous. It is also the country’s largest-ever trial.

Taghi, Together with Irish, Italian and Bosnian drug traffickers, was considered part of a “super-cartel”, directing cocaine shipments to Europe.

He was also blamed for a series of high-profile assassinations, including of the country’s top crime journalist Peter R de Vries, which rattled society, leading certain observers to dub the Netherlands a “narco-state”.

‘Safe haven for organised crime’

In the 1970s, Amsterdam’s Chinatown was ground zero for heroin arriving from Southeast Asia, until a gang war brought police attention to their operations.

Cocaine appeared in the 1980s on board vessels from South America. As the largest seaport in Europe, Rotterdam was a key landing site, with the sheer volume of cargo impossible to screen thoroughly. Since the 1990s, the Netherlands has also been the world’s foremost manufacturer of the party drug MDMA.

“We have great logistical infrastructure; we have global reach because of the port of Rotterdam, the port of Amsterdam, and of course, Schiphol Airport,” said criminologist Yarin Eski from the Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam.

“We have a super diverse society with connections throughout the world through family, friends, you name it, and we also have a very good financial infrastructure that makes it relatively easy to get your drug money back into the legal economy. All that together created the perfect breeding ground for the Netherlands to become this safe haven for organised crime.”

Before Taghi, the Netherlands’ most notorious narco-baron was Klaas Bruinsma.

Constantly wearing black suits and lecturing his men on the importance of a healthy diet earned him the nickname, “The Preacher”.

In the 1980s, he invested in Amsterdam’s Red Light District to launder his money, and kept photos of senior police officers in compromising situations.

Bruinsma was implicated in the murder of his own bodyguard, kickboxer Andre “Bulldog” Brilleman, for allegedly cheating him. Brilleman was beaten with bats, dismembered, shot in the head, encased in concrete then dumped in a river.

In 1991, Bruinsma was gunned down by a police officer-turned-hitman hired by a crew of ruthless Yugoslav mobsters.

Who is Taghi, and what did he do?

Taghi was a leader of the so-called “Mocro-Maffia” or Moroccan mafia – a misnomer since the gangsters also included Chileans, Dutch-Antilleans, and even Poles.

Taking advantage of the same logistics and distribution network his immigrant family once used to import cannabis from back home, Taghi built a cocaine empire. Anyone getting in his way suffered a shortened life expectancy.

In 2017, one of Taghi’s henchmen accidentally killed a childhood friend in a botched hit.

Unable to live with the guilt, the man surrendered to the police. But his status as a crown witness was leaked and his brother was shot dead in his office by a hitman pretending to be a job applicant.

In 2019, his lawyer Derk Wiersum was gunned down outside his home.

Taghi was extradited from Dubai later that year, but the killing spree continued.

In 2021, famed reporter de Vries was shot five times after leaving a TV studio in Amsterdam. De Vries had been serving as an adviser to the Marengo case. He died a week later.

“My thoughts on Taghi and his crew are the same as the old penoze bosses [the elder generation of Amsterdam criminals],” an anonymous source close to Amsterdam’s underworld and nightlife scene told Al Jazeera. “He has no principles. Shooting family members, uninvolved civilians – it’s too much. Of course, nothing [since Taghi] has changed and the same sorts [of individuals] are still bringing in powder.”

According to Stephen Snelders, historian and author of the book, Drug Smuggler Nation, “other crime groups – Chinese gangs, the Klaas Bruinsma group – were also connected to a number of liquidations.”

He added, however, “these groups targeted other criminals. [Taghi’s] group is connected to the liquidations of a journalist and a lawyer, which is unprecedented.”

Despite Taghi being locked away in recent years, the flow of cocaine continued unabated.

“The retail drug market has not changed since the arrest of Taghi,” said Machteld Busz, director of the drugs charity Mainline.

“The prices of cocaine remain stable and the quality is quite high-grade compared to neighbouring countries. Considering inflation in all other aspects in life, you could say that cocaine has actually become cheaper over the past years.”

Experts have said Taghi was a kingpin, but not a linchpin.

“Even if you remove individuals, whether on the top or in the bottom, this system seems to be self-sustaining,” said Eski.

“It doesn’t seem to matter what approach is taken – they know how to adopt, evolve and overcome again, and I think that this has to do with decades of integrating as part of the legal economy. There’s so many youngsters who’ve been born and raised in neighbourhoods where they’re marginalised by Dutch society, who just don’t care any more, who are easily recruited, and everyone is replaceable, disposable.”

‘Other people will fill the void’

In January, Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema called for an end to the war on drugs and urged to consider alternatives, such as the legalisation of cocaine. But there does not yet seem to be enough appetite for such drastic measures, even in famously liberal Dutch society.

“Other people will fill the void, but there’s no reason not to keep arresting them,” said photojournalist Teun Voeten.

“Narco-trafficking is a serious crime, exploiting a weak spot in humans: the need for kicks and excitement. I think people involved should be arrested and punished. You should give a signal that society doesn’t accept this. You can never root out the problem of people using drugs, and organised crime, but you can only keep it a little bit in control.”

But although Eski also expressed a degree of scepticism towards legalisation, he warned a hardline approach could be counterproductive.

“These youngsters that are recruited, for example, to take the drugs out of containers in ports, they have an ethnic minority background – Moroccan, Turkish – and if these hardliners want more security, what I expect that’s going to mean is there’s going to be more policing of specific ethnic minorities and ethnic profiling,” he said. “And the more you profile, stigmatise and exclude youngsters, the easier it becomes for organised crime to recruit these child soldiers for their disposable army.”

- Never miss a story with notifications

- Gain full access to our premium content

- Browse free from up to 5 devices at once

Latest stories