Tougher approach to organized crime under criminal law

The approach to organized crime under criminal law will be intensified in the fight against ruthless criminals who threaten our free society with violence and intimidation. The approach to organized and undermining criminality is broad, with much attention for prevention. But tougher measures will also be necessary to expose, breach and destroy criminal power structures. For example, the maximum sentences for the worst forms of drug criminality will go up. And the crown witness scheme will be improved with stricter frameworks.

Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius of Justice and Security is writing to the House of Representatives today that she is working on this. In this way she also responds to the investigation "Outlines of the fight against mafia criminality in Italy - an exploratory study for the debate about the fight against criminal alliances in the Netherlands of the Dutch Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) led by Dr. Laura Peters, LLM.

"We can no longer afford to be naive. There is talk about Italian conditions, but here we are confronted with devastating organized crime every day. Explosions in residential areas, young people are recruited for drugs criminality, farmers put under pressure to allow their sheds to be used for drug laboratories, our society and open economy are corrupted. And the people who thwart criminals - including mayors, judges, lawyers and journalists - cannot live without protection. If we want to maintain our safe state under the rule of law, we must make a fist as a community and act forcefully where boundaries are crossed’,

according to minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius of Justice and Security.

Italian mafia approach

In the past decades Italy has unfortunately gained a lot of experience in the approach to intimidating and violent practices of mafiosi criminal organizations. The turning point came approximately thirty years ago with the horrendous murders of the two investigating judges Falcone and Borsellino. After these shocking events a fundamental change occurred. More than ever society turned against everything that had something to do with the mafia and measures were taken with great energy. Although the characteristic elements of the Italian anti-mafia approach cannot simply be applied (in full) in the Netherlands, they do offer inspiration.

According to minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius the most important lesson is the united front of Italian society, which means that it is stronger in the fight against organized crime. In Dutch detection a shift is already being made from the focus on individual heavyweights in criminality to the joint dismantlement of criminal power structures with all organizations concerned in the criminal law chain. The Minister wishes to pursue this further by investing in investigation capacity and increased coordination in the approach to criminal power structures.

In addition, Italy is working with shortened proceedings and the proceeds of crime are confiscated effectively. Work is also done on this in the Netherlands. In that way a legal framework is being prepared for procedural arrangements. Besides minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius expects to submit a legislative proposal to the House of Representatives later in 2023, as a result of which confiscation of property without a conviction will be possible if it is plausible that goods and money have come from a crime. Recently a first pilot was started with social reallocation of seized criminal property, with which a learning workshop for local young people was opened in a district of Schiedam.

Crown witness scheme

The crown witness scheme is a heavy instrument that is applied cautiously. It may, however, be crucial in detection to breach the screens with which criminal networks are surrounded and to trace information about the modus operandi of criminal power structures. Deals with crown witnesses are only made if that is justified from the perspective of their safety, their surroundings and officials involved. The instrument will be improved in the coming period.

To be able to apply lessons from the report of the Investigation Council for Safety in connection with the murders of the brother, the then lawyer Derk Wiersum and confidential advisor Peter R. de Vries of the Crown witness in the Marengo trial before all improvements have been implemented, the Public Prosecution Service has activated a plan of action. In that connection ongoing and completed crown witness routes have been analyzed and acute improvements have been implemented in anticipation of new legislation and regulations. In that way from the very first moment that a talk is held with a potential crown witness, the protective measures needed are immediately mapped.

A witness protection agreement with a criminal is a business deal and it should be accompanied by strict arrangements according to minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius. For this purpose, she wants to lay out a framework with laws and regulations up front. It is also examined how this has been arranged legally in other countries. It must be clear to everyone what standardized arrangements apply. If a crown witness gradually fails to comply with the arrangements, a crown witness deal may be dissolved by the State unilaterally. The framework that is being elaborated concerns the protective measures to be taken, the rights and duties of the State and those of the persons to be protected and contributions to the cost of living.

Apart from the internal testing of the crown witness deal surrounding a criminal trial, there must also be an independent test of the witness protection agreement. It is still being investigated who is going to perform this test. Consideration is given to an examining magistrate, another independent judge or an independent committee. The object is more transparency, but this requires great caution. After all, the witness protection agreement contains very sensitive information that may endanger all those concerned if it becomes more widely known. In the elaboration of legislation and regulations the minister will also include the investigation of the Procurator General at the Supreme Court on the subject, which is expected before the end of the year.

Punishment for serious drug crimes

In the past decades organized crime has changed and hardened enormously. The Netherlands has developed into a major producer of synthetic drugs and a transit country of hard drugs. Drugs and criminal capital cross the country borders with extreme speed. Ruthless violence is used if anything stands in the way of the criminals. According to minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius punishment is the final piece alongside detection and arresting criminals as much as possible. It is especially the investigative services that strike heavy blows in rounding up criminal networks thanks to the hacking of encrypted communication services such as EncroChat, SkyECC and recently Exclu.

In that connection it is important that sufficient possibilities exist to act in a clearly normative way in the case of the most serious forms of organized crime. To give more space to this the maximum sentences for serious drug crimes will be raised; for possession of hard drugs from 6 to 8 years, for dealing and producing hard drugs from 8 to 12 years, for import and export of hard drugs from 12 to 16 years and for committing preparatory acts for hard drug crimes from 6 to 8 years. It is expected that consultation concerning the legislative proposal can take place in the coming autumn.