Fight against organised crime ramped up on all fronts

Serious crime is increasingly undermining the safety of our society and our open economy. The international drug trade involves huge amounts of criminal money, brute violence and intimidation. We are no longer naive about this as a country, and we realise we must defend our democratic rule of law against this menace. The fight against organised and subversive crime is being ramped up on all fronts: in our investigative system, in our cooperation with international partners and in the involvement of all of society. This is stated in a letter by Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius of Justice and Security submitted to the House of Representatives today.

‘Tracking down criminal ringleaders is something we’re good at in the Netherlands. Our investigative agencies are among the best in the world. Together with our international partners, we have managed to break the encryption that kept criminal chat messages secret, which has dealt a heavy blow to organised crime. Now we need to take further steps to also destroy the underlying criminal networks, to make the Netherlands as unattractive as possible to organised crime. We will do so in our ports, which criminals seek to exploit for drug trafficking, in our neighbourhoods, to prevent young people from being recruited into crime, and by introducing more effective instruments in the investigation of crime, including by improving the crown witness scheme,’

minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius states in the letter.

A big investment will be made in the fight against organised and subversive crime during this government’s term of office. This consists of 375 million euros in one-off funding invested as of this year (spread over a period of six years), plus an annual investment of 700 million euros as of 2025. This will allow for a sustained reinforcement of the investigative and criminal justice system and enable us to seek cooperation with other partners. These include the financial sector, the Tax and Customs Administration and the Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service (FIOD), to go after criminal assets; municipalities, schools and youth services, to prevent young people turning into dangerous criminals, and entrepreneurs, because criminals are eager to exploit our good economic infrastructure. To uphold our democratic rule of law, it is also essential that people on the frontline of this fight are offered better protection against the aggression of organised crime. Therefore, investments are also being made in the reinforcement and modernisation of the surveillance and security system.

Crown witness scheme

According to Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, one of the steps to be taken to enable more effective investigation and prosecution of criminals is improving the crown witness scheme. The use of crown witnesses has in recent years made a key contribution in major criminal investigations and court cases against serious criminals. Through the statements of witnesses who were personally involved in a criminal network, information comes to light from within the world of organised crime: about the key players, their murder contracts and other serious criminal activities.

Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius wants to make the scheme more accessible to another category of crown witnesses, not in order to greatly expand the use of the scheme, but mainly to create more possibilities for the investigation of crimes. In its current form, the crown witness scheme is primarily attractive to serious criminals facing the prospect of a long prison sentence. They can have the sentence sought against them reduced by up to 50% in return for turning crown witness. Less serious criminals, however, can also have a crucial knowledge position.

The smaller fish and enablers in the criminal scene, such as financial experts or linking pins in drug trafficking through sea ports, can have valuable information that can enable the unravelling of entire organised crime networks. But for less serious criminals, the incentive of having their prison sentence halved often does not weigh up against the drawbacks and risks of turning witness against other criminals. To also get smaller fish into the crown witness system, the Minister wants to make it possible to grant a bigger sentence reduction to suspects against whom shorter prison sentences (at maximum a prison term of six years) are sought. This will be subject to the condition that the statement of the crown witness must make such a significant contribution to the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes that this justifies the sentence reduction. Furthermore, additional frameworks will be set up to ensure more transparency and safeguards when the crown witness scheme is used and to address the eventuality that a crown witness fails to keep to the agreements made.