Dutch port officials have made headlines for mocking a trucker as they seized his ham sandwiches under Brexit rules– but criminals are having the last laugh as they use the country’s shipping terminals to smuggle drugs worth billions of pounds every year.
Famously tolerant of cannabis use, the Netherlands is also a seen as a ‘gateway for South American cocaine’ and an ‘ideal environment’ for a drugs trade which has left the country in fear of becoming a ‘narco-state’.
While customs officers are busy stopping British packed lunches crossing the border, it is estimated that some 70,000kg of cocaine crosses into the country each year – just 14,000kg of which is stopped, making Holland one of Europe’s biggest drug trafficking hubs.
Often hidden in fruit shipments, some of the lucrative stashes of cocaine are worth more than £100million alone and are sometimes smuggled along with firearms.
The criminal trade at Dutch ports has also started to seep into the mainland, with gang violence causing an outcry in Amsterdam where drug kingpins run money-laundering rackets and a ‘ring of hustlers and parasites’ have ‘free rein’.
Busted: In one major drugs raid last year, more than two tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of £136million were found in a banana shipment in Rotterdam
Crackdown: A Polish lorry driver arriving from Britain had his ham sandwiches confiscated by Dutch police under the new Brexit rules in footage which made headlines on Monday
In one major drug bust last year, more than two tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of £136million were found in a banana shipment in Rotterdam.
Arriving from Ecuador, the illegal drugs were meant to use Holland as a gateway to Europe before making their way to Hungary.
Rotterdam is Europe’s largest sea port and handles nearly 15million containers a year, only a small fraction of which are routinely scanned.
Even when containers are inspected, gangs can use accomplices at Dutch and Belgian docks to sneak past authorities.
Last year, police discovered that seven shipping containers had even been adapted into prison cells and a ‘torture chamber’ used by the criminal underworld.
Believed to be used for kidnappings, ‘torture chamber’ included what looked like a dentist’s chair with straps for the prisoner’s arms and legs.
Six people were arrested on suspicion of ‘preparing kidnappings and hostage-taking’ after the containers were discovered near the Belgian border in a raid linked to the drugs trade.
Pieter Tops, a professor at the Dutch police academy, said in October that Holland’s tolerant penal system and its extensive transport links make it an ‘ideal environment for the drugs trade’.
The professor said that schoolchildren were sometimes offered €500 to transport a package while farmers were approached about letting out their land to drug gangs.
‘The main problem is the enormous flow of money and its rippling effect throughout our society,’ he told Dutch News.
A 2019 report by the EU’s drug agency estimated that around 14,600kg of cocaine are seized in the Netherlands every year – with a separate IMF report giving a ‘seizure rate’ of around 20 per cent.
Tops said that each kilogram of cocaine is worth around €50,000, meaning the overall trade is worth billions.
‘Torture chamber’: Last year, police discovered that seven shipping containers had even been adapted into prison cells used by the criminal underworld
Shipping hub: The port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe and handles nearly 15million containers a year, making it an attractive gateway for drug smugglers
In Amsterdam, a report commissioned by city authorities in 2019 found that hard drugs had led to rising violence and corruption at the hands of ‘hustlers, parasites and extortionists’.
The Netherlands has a ‘policy of toleration’ on soft drugs which means that Amsterdam’s ‘coffee shops’ are not prosecuted for selling marijuana.
‘Separating soft and hard drugs shields the users of soft drugs from the criminal circuit that is involved in the hard drugs trade,’ the government says.
But the report found that the same ‘toleration’ was gradually being extended to harder drugs, with up to 17 per cent of the population using cocaine or heroin.
‘Amsterdam has given free rein…to a motley crew of drugs criminals, a ring of hustlers and parasites, middle-men and extortionists, of dubious notaries and real estate agent,’ the report said.
At the top of the criminal chain are wealthy organised crime bosses who may not be physically located in Amsterdam, the report said.
At the bottom are ‘lackeys such as scooter and taxi chauffeurs and even young messenger boys set to follow quite a career path: offering murder as a service.’
The report also found evidence of money-laundering systems and turf wars between drug retailers in Amsterdam.
Across the Netherlands, around six per cent of men aged 15-34 and three per cent of women in the same age group say they use cocaine.
Cannabis produced in Holland is also sold to other countries, while Dutch ports serve as a point of transit for cocaine to be transported elsewhere in Europe.
In 2019, the killing of a lawyer for a protected witness in a drugs case led the head of a Dutch police union to say that ‘we definitely have the characteristics of a narco-state’.
‘Sure we’re not Mexico. We don’t have 14,400 murders. But if you look at the infrastructure, the big money earned by organised crime, the parallel economy. Yes, we have a narco-state,’ Jan Struijs told BBC News at the time.
The murdered lawyer, Derk Wiersum, was shot dead in the Amsterdam suburbs by a man dressed in black who fled on foot and was thought to be no older than 20.
Dutch customs confiscate dozens of sandwiches and packets of meat from people arriving via ferry from the United Kingdom at Hook of Holland
Wiersum was representing a ‘supergrass’ witness in a drugs case who had cut a deal with prosecutors to provide evidence against suspected underworld bosses.
Months later, another Dutch lawyer involved in several drug-related cases was shot across the border in Germany, although he was not seriously injured.
Hook of Holland, where the trucker arriving from Britain had his ham sandwiches confiscated last week, was also the departure point for a 35kg cocaine run to Britain which was eventually uncovered when the shipment arrived in Humberside.
Lorry driver Hendrik van der Genugten was later jailed for 10 years after smuggling the drugs out of the Netherlands in 2019.
Police in Hook of Holland were quicker to get rid of the offending sandwiches under the new Brexit rules, leading to claims of ‘nit-picking’.
‘Welcome to the Brexit, sir… I’m sorry,’ said one official as he seized the foil-wrapped sandwiches belonging to the driver.
The driver plaintively asks the Dutch customs officer if he can ‘take off the meat and you leave me the bread?’
But the Dutch official replies: ‘No, everything will be confiscated.’
‘The whole story smacks of one sandwich short of a picnic, literally,’ Brexiteer MP Andrew Bridgen told MailOnline.
‘As the Dutch know as well as everyone else in the EU we have the highest food standards in Europe.
‘Is this is going to be the way it is then? Are they really going to go through a lorry driver’s lunchbox going through customs, for something that is causing any danger?
‘We need to talk to the European Union about what is really quite pathetic nit-picking. Otherwise this will not be good for the Dutch ports, hauliers will go somewhere else.’
Mark Francois, Chairman of parliament’s European Research Group, said: ‘This is pettifogging bureaucracy gone mad.
‘The EU have always worried that a dynamic, free-trading UK, outside the EU, would eventually eat their lunch on world markets, so now they are retaliating by trying to steal our truckers’ lunches instead! It’s pathetic really.’
The new post-Brexit rules say that bringing foods that contain meat or dairy into the EU, even for personal use, is forbidden.