Dutch law enforcement and journalists now fear that drug trafficking organised crime groups are growing increasingly bold in targeting their enemies.
“De Vries’ death brings a serious question to the fore,” said a Dutch police official, who requested anonymity while discussing a political issue. “Can we tolerate the Netherlands and Belgium being major narco hubs for groups perfectly willing to use violence against societal institutions like the courts and media?”
Arguably the most famous journalist in the Netherlands, De Vries dominated coverage of major stories ranging from the 1980s investigations into the kidnapping of beer magnate Freddy Heineken to the 2005 disappearance and murder of US teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba, including obtaining the suspect’s confession on hidden camera.
As his fame grew, colleagues said, de Vries became more of an advocate for the victims of mafia wars in the Netherlands. He used his experience and celebrity to act as a spokesperson and adviser to the families of those killed in the low-key but persistent violence surrounding the use of Antwerp and Rotterdam’s ports – key logistical hubs to move huge amounts of cocaine into mainland Europe, which recently eclipsed the US as the world’s largest cocaine market.
“It was no longer enough for him to just report after 40 years, he had grown close to the families of victims and used his experience to advocate for them,” said the police official, who knew de Vries well.
De Vries had been representing “Nabil B,” a key witness in an ongoing series of trials related to accused mafia kingpin, Ridouan Taghi, who was arrested in Dubai in 2019 and extradited to the Netherlands to face charges of murder and narcotics trafficking. That trial has proven remarkably dangerous for witnesses and lawyers as Nabil B’s brother “Redouan B” and lawyer Derk Wiersum were murdered in 2019. The men arrested in connection with de Vries’ murder are believed to have criminal links to Taghi’s organisation, which has been accused in more than half a dozen murders.
“But this involvement with the witness appears to have made him a target beyond just a journalist and it appears this advocacy put him at great risk,” said the police official.
Two men, including a 21-year-old Dutch national with a minor history as a rapper, have been charged in connection with the shooting after being arrested nearby in the aftermath.
But working for Nabil B was unlikely to scare de Vries, who famously had “On bended knee is no way to be free,” tattooed on his lower leg, a tribute to his father, who had served in the Dutch resistance against the Nazi occupation in World War Two and had the same slogan written on his tombstone.
“He was a brave man no doubt,” said the Dutch cop. “But if the drug gangs controlling the ports and Amsterdam feel powerful enough to kill lawyers, witnesses and now the most famous reporter in Holland, there are significant rule of law questions. For too long it was understood that drugs would get through the port but be taken to the rest of Europe so the crime wouldn’t affect Holland or Belgium. But now there’s a fight for control of the entry positions and the stakes are so high and payoff so large for winning that we see gangs willing to take huge risks. Like murdering Peter de Vries.”