Police and the public prosecution department are seeing more parallels and crossovers between the illegal trade in fireworks and the drugs trade, including gang violence, the AD reports.
Police have estimated that the sale of illegal fireworks in the Netherlands is in the hands of at least 1,000 traders and dozens of criminal networks. Every province has up to ten ‘big players’ responsible for the import each year of tens of thousands of kilos of heavy duty fireworks imported from China, mostly via Germany, police said.
‘Suspects in the fireworks trade often deal in drugs or illegal cigarettes as well,’ public prosecutor Karin Broere told the AD.
Many of the fireworks are stored in disused bunkers just over the border with Germany. There are at least a thousand bunkers in the border area which were used to store explosives during World War II and they now provide ideal storage for both legal and illegal fireworks. Rents for the bunkers are low and there are few police checks that side of the border, the AD said.
Police have been instructed this year to be on the lookout for illegal traders, the AD said. A big online investigation has already flushed out some 1,000 traders this year, while students at the Windesheim college detected another 500 dealers on Instagram.
So far some 90,000 kilos of illegal fireworks have been impounded by police, 50% more than in 2019.
However, only a fraction of the illegal trade is intercepted, insiders told the paper. The exact number of traders is unclear and the money involved far exceeds conservative estimates of between €1m and €2m a year.
The government has issued a blanket ban on fireworks this year in order to avoid new coronavirus outbreaks. Two people died and almost 1,300 people were treated for fireworks related injuries during last year’s festivities.