A high-profile Dutch crime reporter is in intensive care after being shot at least once in the head as he departed a television studio following an interview.
Two people are in custody in connection with the shooting of Peter R. de Vries and police in the Netherlands are continuing to hunt for clues behind Tuesday night’s attack.
De Vries was leaving the studio of Dutch broadcaster RTL just after 7.30PM local time when two men approached him near Amsterdam’s Leidseplein Square, according to CCTV and witness statements collected by Dutch police. Five shots immediately rang out with at least one hitting de Vries in the head. He remains in critical condition in an Amsterdam hospital.
“He was seriously wounded and is fighting for his life," Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema said in a televised news conference. "He is a national hero to us all. A rare, courageous journalist who tirelessly seeks justice."
The 64-year-old has long been at the centre of controversy and the subject of dramatic threats in the Netherlands for his deep reporting on underworld organised crime figures and international drug traffickers, most notably the 1983 kidnapping of beer fortune heir Freddy Heineken and subsequent legal cases.
In 2013, Willem Holleeder – convicted of kidnapping Heineken and serving five life sentences for gang-related murders – was found guilty of threatening de Vries from prison. It was just one of many credible threats made against the reporter in his more than four-decade career so far.
Following last night’s attack, two suspects were arrested attempting to flee the area in a car, according to police. A third suspect was detained in the area of the shooting itself but was eventually released without charges and police say that person is no longer a suspect and they expect to make more arrests.
Although police have not released any details about the motivation for the shooting from the two detained suspects, de Vries has been considered at risk for his role as a counsellor – not a lawyer – to a key witness, identified only as Nabil B, in the trial of Ridouan Taghi, an alleged high-level gangster on trial in the Netherlands for drug trafficking and murder.
In September 2019, a lawyer for Nabil B was gunned down in Amsterdam apparently in retaliation for his cooperation in the case against Taghi, who was then forced to release a statement denying that he had ever threatened de Vries or solicited his murder as he began his trial last year.
“Peter has been at the centre of many investigations and is very well known, maybe too well known it seems, to the Dutch speaking underground criminal world,” said a Belgian police official in Antwerp, who regularly works with Dutch counterparts on major drug trafficking cases. “The situation with Nabil B is unusual because he’s not acting as a lawyer or reporter, but as an adviser. That kind of activity might lead organised crime to decide he’s not a reporter and untouchable anymore, but rather he’s a participant in these affairs in his own right.”
The official, who cannot be identified speaking to the press about criminal cases, said that de Vries was not suspected of illegal behaviour himself but rather was seen as having a personal stake in the situation with Taghi as he counselled the key witness in the case.
Since 2017 there have been three murders of journalists investigating organised crime in the European Union with the shooting of de Vries a fourth attack. In 2017, a car bomb killed Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta after her reporting linked the prime minister and his party to broad corruption schemes, while Jan Kuciak was murdered in Slovakia in 2018 after investigating a corrupt businessman’s links to key politicians and in April, Giorgos Karaivaz, a Greek television reporter who specialised in organised crime coverage was shot more than 10 times and killed outside his home in suburban Athens.
While arrests and trials are ongoing in the cases of Kuciak and Galizia, there have been no arrests or announced suspects in the Karaivaz case.