Ridouan Taghi with a sketch aged to show what he may look like today. Photo: Police handout.
An alleged top Dutch gangster whose firm is accused of multiple gangland murders and wide-scale drug trafficking has been caught plotting an action movie-style jailbreak from his high-security prison. Ridouan Taghi discussed breaking out with the aid of “Navy SEAL” type mercenaries with his lawyer cousin during meetings to prepare for his trial, say Dutch authorities, who have accused his drug gang of murdering journalists, lawyers and witnesses.
Taghi, who was finally captured in October, 2019 after a worldwide manhunt that ended with his arrest in Dubai, had proposed three scenarios to his cousin, who used his status as a lawyer to meet him in prison, that included hiring highly trained gunmen to attack either the courthouse or prison to free him, or barring that, proposed kidnapping prison employees or their family members for an exchange. The plans were discovered when police intercepted messages between gang members.
“It sounds crazy like something out of a movie and anyone else I’d say they’re talking complete shite,” said a Belgian detective, who is barred from speaking on the record to the media, in nearby Antwerp, where Taghi’s organisation has been accused of using the port to import huge amounts of cocaine into Europe. “But Taghi and his guys are completely reckless, the most insolent criminals we have encountered in many ways and, honestly, he really would have tried it,” said the detective. “He’s already been accused of killing witnesses, lawyers, and journalists, so why wouldn’t he hire mercenaries to shoot his way out of prison?” Dutch police, who refused to comment to VICE World News on the record, suspect that Taghi’s organisation was responsible for ordering the murder of famed Dutch crime journalist Peter de Vries last July in broad daylight outside an Amsterdam televison studio, planning an unsuccessful attempt on the life of another journalist, John van den Heuvel, as well as killing the lawyer for one-time gang member Nabil Bakkali, a key witness in the case.
Taghi and his organisation, including top deputy Saïd Razzouki, who was captured in Colombia in 2020 and extradited to the Netherlands last month, are being prosecuted as part of the “Marengo trial”, a maxi-style mafia trial against members of the ‘Mocro Maffia, a Dutch Moroccan criminal organisation. Members of the group are charged with more than a dozen murders or attempted murders between 2015 to 2017, as well as prolific transporting cocaine by the metric ton through Dutch and Belgian ports for distribution around Europe. As both Taghi and Razzouki were only recently captured by police, the trial has only begun its preliminary stages and is expected to take years, like the mega trial of ‘Ndrangheta members currently in process in Calabria, Italy. The testimony of former gang member turned police informant Bakkali will be crucial to the Dutch Crown Prosecutor, said the Belgian detective, and it is widely expected that Taghi’s gang, many of which are family members not in custody, one day hope to kill him.“They got [Bakkali’s] lawyer, they got Peter [de Vries] who was trying to help him, his current lawyer is in hiding, and Bakkali himself is probably stashed on some army base surrounded by special forces troops,” said the Belgian police detective. “Europe has not seen such a violent response from organised crime since the Cosa Nostra trials in the early 90s.”
During the Italian 1990s “Super-Max” trials in Italy prosecutors charged suspected Sicilian mafia by the hundreds, even as top prosecutors and judges were assassinated by roadside bombs in Sicily in retailiation. The eventual success of the trials and public outrage as the deaths of prosecutors eventually broke much of the Sicilian mafia’s control in Italy as the people turned against the mafia. What has spurred the surge of gang violence in the Netherlands and Belgium, according to the detective, is the flood of cocaine coming through the ports in Rotterdam and Antwerp, two of Europe’s busiest. Europol estimates that between a third and half of all cocaine in Europe, which is the world’s largest market, first arrives in one of the two ports.“It's non-stop fighting for control of the ports,” the detective said. “And it's not just the sheer amount of money involved – although that's billions of euros and important – but it’s also power, sheer power. Control the ports and you can decide who in Europe gets to be a cocaine dealer. Taghi sees himself as a God, and in terms of cocaine trafficking, maybe he is.”