How Traveling Cartel ‘Cooks’ Helped the Dutch Become a Global Meth Hub

Photo illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty
No meth laboratory had been found in the Netherlands until 2014. Today they are spreading across the Dutch countryside. This year alone, 19 laboratories were found and dismantled as the Dutch police prepared for a true crystal meth tidal wave.
“Mexico has traditionally specialized in the production of meth, and we as the Netherlands have the dubious honor of being one of the main producers of MDMA and amphetamines. These two worlds are now found, ”Andy Kraag, head of the Dutch criminal investigation department, told The Daily Beast. The profit margins for crystal meth are insane: Kraag calls it a "perverse incentive"; This temptation is too difficult for any ambitious drug dealer to resist. And there are a lot of such dealers in the Netherlands.
It was a recent development of a chemical nature that set the Mexican cartels and Dutch criminal networks on a common path to meth. Dutch ecstasy laboratories realized that methamphetamine can be derived from a substance associated with the manufacture of MDMA, also known as 'molly'. For MDMA labs, this is an easy transition. All resources, facilities and ingredients are already available to them. Even the infrastructure and smuggling routes from the Netherlands to the rest of the world are in place.
"All the beautiful aspects of this country are being abused," says Kraag. “The fact that we are a tolerant country; the fact that we are the gateway to Europe via Rotterdam [the largest port in Europe]; and that we have a mild climate of judgment. We have the best internet infrastructure in the world, an excellent infrastructure and a merchant mentality. They are all reasons why we thrive and are rich, but it is also a breeding ground for drug trafficking in a broader sense. This is one of the reasons why synthetic drugs have gained such a foothold. "
All the Dutch drug manufacturers needed was someone to show them the highly skilled techniques for making high quality methamphetamine.
Making meth is a complicated process, and the Dutch "luckily aren't very good at it yet," says Kraag. It is the Mexican "stoves" who are teaching the Dutch MDMA laboratories how to move from ecstasy to crystal meth production. "We find Mexicans who were flown in to do the crystallization for them."
The main problem for the police is that these criminal networks are notoriously fluid and based on opportunistic collaborations. It makes them extremely difficult to fight. The Dutch National Synthetic Drugs Team consists of a hundred detectives focused solely on tracking down and mapping drug production syndicates and targeting their key executives and intermediaries. It is part of the larger national police force that works in close collaboration with the regional police on a variety of drug-related issues ranging from money laundering to drug-related violence.
The crystal meth prepared in Dutch laboratories is not intended for the local market, the substrate for users of crystal meth in the Netherlands is Rand. This is the production line for users in other countries, from Eastern European countries to parts of Asia and Australia. "Crystal meth is and was on the advance worldwide, especially in Asia and Australia," explains Kraag. However, the main reason Dutch meth emerged is, as always, the money to be made. "Crystal meth has much higher profit margins than MDMA, it multiplies the margin by 10."
The drug business is a billion dollar industry. With so much money, the stakes are high and business is tough. If the surge in meth labs in and of itself wasn't disruptive enough, the influx of Mexican instructors means that members of the Mexican cartels are now integrated into the Dutch criminal ecosystem.
The Dutch drug trade is becoming increasingly violent - even cruel. Earlier this year, authorities discovered a soundproofed prison built by a criminal syndicate in a huge rural warehouse. Seven makeshift prison cells were found, including a fully equipped torture chamber. Cuffs, rifles, tools likely to be used for torture, and several police uniforms were found in the cells made from shipping containers.
The discovery of the underworld prison was part of the largest Dutch investigation of all time. From April to June of this year, the Dutch police gained access to all data flowing through the France-based EncroChat platform, an encrypted communication network that is widely used by Dutch criminals. In the course of the joint Dutch and French investigation, the police intercepted and read over 25 million messages while they were being broadcast in real time.
"This way we get a blueprint of what is really going on," explained Kraag. The hundreds of detectives, analysts, and experts at work were given a live look at the day-to-day running of the drug business.
"Some of the news was so worrying that it was way beyond our imagination," said Janine van den Berg, police chief of the Dutch Central Police, during a press conference. "It was like sitting at a table where criminals were talking."
The investigation was a huge success, resulting in over 800 arrests and the seizure of around $ 25 million in cash, as well as huge amounts of cocaine meth and dozens of weapons. It also revealed Dutch criminal networks, their crime bosses, great personalities, the trade and the way the company works. But it wasn't all good news for the Dutch authorities. The encrypted communication also revealed that key officials were being bribed and that there was corruption within the police force itself.
The EncroChat data gave an unprecedented insight into the Dutch crystal metal laboratories. "We see that our own criminal networks are trying to work with the Mexican criminal networks to get their specific knowledge about the production of crystal meth," said Kraag.
There is no local drug trafficking, which makes international cooperation essential for drug enforcement. In the case of crystal meth, the Dutch police work closely with colleagues from Mexico and Australia, but also with the American DEA. "We keep each other up to date so that we can take action together against these international drug criminals." Said Kraag. The war on drugs is challenging, especially in places where crime syndicates are active at all levels of society. “Every country has its own problems. Mexico's drug trafficking-related problems are complex. There are three thousand drug-related homicides every month, so the security situation is very different from Australia. "
The cartel members are not yet pulling the strings in the Netherlands, but that is no reason for complacency. “In Mexico, the meth scene is exponentially violent. That's not what we have here, it's not something you want to see in the Netherlands. For this reason, we are at the forefront of this development and prioritize all research on crystal methane producers and traders. "
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