Speech by the Minister of Justice and Security, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, at the 2018 International Drug Enforcement Conference, 10 April 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
When this Dutch government took office, we became fully aware of the embarrassing position of the Netherlands in the international rankings of drug-producing countries. It was clear to us that further action was needed.
In the past weeks we’ve been confronted with the most despicable excesses of organised drug crime. The murder of the innocent brother of a prosecution witness is truly a new low point.
Dutch people are now being exposed to the kind of violence they only knew from Hollywood films. I myself was reminded of Once Upon a Time in the West. I saw it when I was in college and it made quite an impression. The gross injustice. The cowardice. Total lawlessness.
Of course, in the end, justice triumphs. But it is not society that brings down the criminals, it is an individual with limitless determination and bravery – in fact he restores order in a lawless world.
So is this the era of One Upon a Time in the Netherlands? I want to tell you clearly: it is not. This country savours a long tradition of the rule of law. We have created a social infrastructure that provides every individual protection against lawlessness and hence creates justice for all.
Also, over centuries, we have created a logistics infrastructure providing not only prosperity, but also sound trade relations with neighbouring countries and the European Union.
Economy of drugs
All the same, the situation we are in is cause for alarm. The violence we have witnessed is driven by money, enormous amounts of money. And that money comes from drugs. Sadly, ‘the economy of drugs’ is as serious an issue in the Netherlands as anywhere.
Drug revenues are estimated at some three billion euros a year, and we, the authorities, recover less than a tenth of that. In the meantime, the price of a hit job on our streets has fallen.
For a few thousand euros, young amateurs in the Netherlands are willing to unload heavy automatic weapons into each other, police officers and innocent bystanders. One of many recent innocent victims was a young man of seventeen.
I have grave concerns about the disruption that addictive drugs are causing. The drug economy undermines every aspect of society and threatens the legitimate economy. But it also threatens our standards, our values and our security.
Let me first touch on standards. Too often, the dangers of drugs are downplayed. But they are dangerous. I have no time for those who equate addictive drugs with having fun. Such perceptions often stem from naiveté, and sometimes from cynicism.
Even in the most affluent parts of society, too many people associate drugs with having a good time. A couple of lines at the weekend. A pill or two at a club. They’ll even tell you drugs help you perform better at work. Not much to worry about, they’ll say.
I reject this. As you’ve heard, I equate drugs with serious crime: killing, money laundering, corruption, fraud and environmental crime. To name but a few.
Addictive drugs are the foundation of a poisonous system, and any acceptance of them only makes it easier for that system to flourish.
That brings me to values. Drugs mostly harm the least fortunate members of society, and I’m not even talking about the health risks here. Drugs reduce the opportunities of young people whose prospects are already limited.
These people are surrounded by unemployment and by others who are struggling to make ends meet. And then they see the criminals, with their designer clothes and their expensive cars, doing exactly as they please. And it’s precisely the disadvantaged and poorly educated who are most vulnerable. They look up to these criminals.
Yet these ‘role models’ only drag them down. And as a result, the gap between those with prospects and those without only grows bigger.
All this goes against everything the vast majority of the Dutch stand for: you earn your money by working hard; you live an honest, modest life; and you look out for your friends and neighbours.
Sense of security
Let’s also consider the damage being done to many people’s basic sense of security. Again, it’s usually those who are already in a vulnerable situation who feel most unsafe. How long will a single mother in a street full of grow houses and pill labs dare to refuse drug criminals the use of her attic? The risk is small, they tell her.
But when the place gets busted, she finds herself in trouble with both the authorities and the criminals who want compensation for lost profits. Just try and climb out of a hole as deep as that.
There are already some neighbourhoods in the Netherlands where people are reluctant to report suspicious activities.
Perhaps because they’re afraid of reprisals. Perhaps because they see that losers who earn big money in the underworld look like winners in the ‘legit’ world. Or because they feel they simply have to accept drug crime as part of life.
We should not accept that. We should show people who are intimidated by criminal organisations that we stand up for them.
And we should make clear that it’s unacceptable that criminals are acquiring more cash than they can count, while honest people are working hard and saving their money.
In too many business sectors, honest companies are suffering unfair competition. Because if your rivals are laundering criminal cash there’s no way you can hope to compete with them.
These are all examples of how the drug economy undermines the legitimate economy and disrupts our society.
Now let me describe to you how we counter these trends. Our approach is threefold.
First: I’m deploying a comprehensive strategy to disrupt and dismantle drug-related criminal activities in the Netherlands. We’re tackling offenders via criminal law, administrative law and tax measures, and within these areas a whole range of partners are working in concert. Let me sum them up.
Local government, the Public Prosecution Service, the police, the Tax and Customs Administration, the Fiscal Information and Investigation Service, the Social Affairs and Employment Inspectorate, and the Royal Military and Border Police.
We also have centres of expertise working at national and regional level to identify threats and help us select the right interventions.
We are also, within the rule of law, further extending the investigative powers of our law enforcement forces as well as of our local authorities. We are investing an extra 267 million euros, five percent on top of budget structurally, in capacity and materials for our police force. We are also making extra investments in digital law enforcement and the fight against cybercrime. Like yesterday, when the Amsterdam police intercepted a company selling hard drugs over the internet.
Second: Public-private cooperation. Drug trafficking is a globalised business. Someone in a small town in Brabant – one of our southern provinces – can order raw materials for synthetic drugs in China. They can then produce the pills in their garden shed and sell it in Australia. We have a special intervention team working with our postal services to intercept packages like these. And our law enforcement agencies are also working with energy companies, who can often spot suspicious activity by analysing energy consumption.
Now, I said before that we are proud of our logistic enterprises. But one factor that makes the Netherlands an attractive transit country is exactly that: the strategic location of the Port of Rotterdam. Eight containers a minute arrive here. Every minute of every day of every year. We’re working closely with the port to identify suspicious containers, tighten security protocols and prevent criminals from getting inside help. We have strengthened that cooperation in recent years and we will invest in it even more.
The third and final front involves international cooperation. As I said at the start: I’m not proud of the Netherlands’ position in the international drug rankings. What’s more, we, like other countries, have in the past not been responsive to requests for international legal assistance. We can and must improve, and my government is investing in this area. We want to break down the barriers to international cooperation by reaching clear agreements and enhancing our relations with other countries on this point.
I’ve already spoken about what we’re doing at national and European level. When it comes to drugs produced in other countries, we’re increasingly aiming for the source. Our teams are active in large parts of Europe, but also further afield, including the Caribbean region.
Due to increasing levels of globalisation and innovation, drug trafficking is presenting us with new challenges. But at the same time, we can also use globalisation and innovation to combat it.
By working in concert with other countries, Dutch law enforcement agencies have achieved some spectacular results.
A server seized in Canada was found to contain seven terabytes of cell-phone conversations between criminals. They thought they’d be safe if they used phones encrypted with PGP, which stands for ‘Pretty Good Privacy’. But our people managed to crack the encryption, and the resulting data has provided information with a link to more than a hundred criminal cases so far.
And last summer we managed to take over Hansa: one of the world’s biggest dark web markets. We gathered a lot of evidence before we took the site down. Working closely with Europol and the police and justice systems of Germany, Lithuania and the US, we managed to track some fifty thousand transactions, most of them drug deals.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me summarize. We are in a serious situation. Within our country, there exists an economy of drugs. We pay a high price; the violence that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech is just one piece of evidence of that.
But there is another side to this coin. The killings I mentioned are the work of criminals originating from one group. Many of them are behind bars already, due to excellent law enforcement work. What’s more, this violence is by no means a reflection of our society in general. Dutch society is both civilised and strong. In fact, our civilisation is our strength. The rule of law is our bedrock.
We need to take action and we do. But in some respects this problem transcends what the police and the justice system can deal with alone. Its impact on our values and standards falls largely outside their remit. Addressing these issues is a task for society at large, for politicians, and for each and everyone of us. It calls for reflection. So that is what I am dong here also: I am calling for action but also for reflection on our values.