Saturday 01 April 2023

The Netherlands and Belgium have leading cocaine trade roles: UN

Cocaine seized in Rotterdam. Photo: Public Prosecution Department

While Colombia still dominates cocaine trafficking routes from South America, Belgium and the Netherlands have now eclipsed the Iberian peninsula as the main hub for Europe, the UN’s office on drugs and crime says in a new report.

In addition, the growing prominence of Netherlands-linked routes over the past decade may have been instrumental in increasing the availability of cocaine in Europe, the UNODC report said.

Police and customs officials discovered almost 47 tonnes of cocaine at Rotterdam port last year, well down on the 70 tonnes seized in 2021. By contrast, seizures at Antwerp port reached a record 110 tonnes, compared with 90 tonnes in 2021, according to the Belgian authorities.

Yet while there are indications that cocaine imports have increased via Antwerp in recent years, most of the drug is thought to be channeled into the Netherlands and some of the criminal groups involved in the smuggling operation in Belgium have close contacts across the border, the report states.

‘From the Netherlands, cocaine is further distributed to other European countries and Albanian-speaking groups appear to play an important role in this, in particular in trafficking towards Italy and Albania,’ the report said.

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The report also touches on drug-related violence, and says there has been an increase in recent years a result of rivalry between and within rival trafficking gangs.


It also points out that although the number of contract killings has fallen, the victims have included a mistakenly or unintentionally targeted person almost every year since 2013.

‘Unlike the patterns found in the previous decade, it seems that contemporary contract killings in the Netherlands’ criminal underworld also feature deliberate targeting of people not associated with the criminal world,’ the report noted, in a reference to the murder of television crime reporter Peter R de Vries who was supporting the crown witness in the ongoing Marengo gangland trial.


The Netherlands has been making efforts to tackle the rise in cocaine smuggling. For example, Dutch port officials have begun working together more with South American countries where the cocaine originates, and have stepped up screening and counter-corruption measures among port workers.

And earlier this year, the Netherlands and Belgium enlisted the help of shipping companies to combat drug smuggling with an agreement to fit containers with a digital seal which will emit a warning signal when broken.

European policing organisation Europol said in 2021 that the increased use of shipping containers to conceal drugs had made the high volume ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg the new epicentre of the European cocaine market.

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