Netherlands
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    Profile

    Netherlands

    Capital

    Amsterdam

    Gross domestic product (GDP)

    USD 907,050.86 million

    Income group

    High income

    Population

    17,344,874

    Area

    41,540 km²

    Geography type

    Coastal

    4.69

    Criminality score

    107th of 193 countries

    18th of 44 countries in Europe

    5th of 11 countries in Western Europe

    Criminal market

    5.00

    Human trafficking

    5.50

    Human smuggling

    4.50

    Arms trafficking

    5.00

    Flora crimes

    3.00

    Fauna crimes

    4.00

    Non-renewable resource crimes

    4.00

    Heroin trade

    4.00

    Cocaine trade

    7.00

    Cannabis trade

    5.50

    Synthetic drug trade

    7.50

    Criminal actors

    4.38

    Mafia-style groups

    4.50

    Criminal networks

    6.00

    State-embedded actors

    2.50

    Foreign actors

    4.50

    7.42

    Resilience score

    18th of 193 countries

    12th of 44 countries in Europe

    6th of 11 countries in Western Europe

    Political leadership and governance

    7.50

    Government transparency and accountability

    8.00

    International cooperation

    8.00

    National policies and laws

    7.50

    Judicial system and detention

    7.50

    Law enforcement

    7.50

    Territorial integrity

    6.00

    Anti-money laundering

    6.50

    Economic regulatory capacity

    6.50

    Victim and witness support

    8.00

    Prevention

    8.00

    Non-state actors

    8.00

    7.42 4.38 5.00 7.42 4.38 5.00

    7.42

    Resilience score

    18th of 193 countries

    12th of 44 countries in Europe

    6th of 11 countries in Western Europe

    Political leadership and governance

    7.50

    Government transparency and accountability

    8.00

    International cooperation

    8.00

    National policies and laws

    7.50

    Judicial system and detention

    7.50

    Law enforcement

    7.50

    Territorial integrity

    6.00

    Anti-money laundering

    6.50

    Economic regulatory capacity

    6.50

    Victim and witness support

    8.00

    Prevention

    8.00

    Non-state actors

    8.00

    Analysis

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    People

    The Netherlands is primarily a destination country for victims of human trafficking, though it also operates as a source and transit country within the trade. Based on the number of reported human trafficking victims, the Netherlands is among the worst-affected countries in Europe, with Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria being notable origin countries. Sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and other forms of forced labour are all prevalent in the country, and the Netherlands is also a source country for child-sex tourists, a form of sex trafficking to which asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable. Although visibility of human trafficking cases has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of victims may be increasing as more people face economic hardship and become increasingly vulnerable to exploitation as a result.

    The Netherlands also plays a role as a transit country for human smuggling from continental Europe to the UK. Often, smuggling takes place step-by-step via hubs and involves criminal networks, rather than mafia-style groups or rackets. Suspected smugglers in the Netherlands include Dutch, as well as other EU nationals, whereas foreign nationals typically work as drivers transporting migrants. Moreover, the closure of the French refugee camp in Calais, and the subsequent escalation in policing there, may have resulted in increased human smuggling activity through the Netherlands.

    Trade

    The Netherlands is a transit country for illegal arms from Belgium, Germany and Eastern Europe and a source country for firearms destined for the UK. The Netherlands is also a destination country for illegal firearms originating in Serbia and Slovakia. The import of firearms is usually run by a relatively small group of arms dealers that have connections in countries such as Poland, Croatia, Slovakia, and to some extent the Antilles. Many brokers are also part of larger criminal networks and form occasional coalitions. While the market is established, it is not extensive in scope or value.

    Environment

    The Netherlands is an important transit and destination country for the illicit trade of endangered plant species from origin countries such as Indonesia, Madagascar and Panama. The import and domestic sale of ornamental plants is also big business, partly maintained by the persistent illicit trade in endangered ornamental plants smuggled in luggage by individuals, mail parcels and legal shipments imported by companies. Additionally, while illegal logging is not a significant issue within the Netherlands itself, illegal timber is estimated to make up a small proportion of total imports. The Netherlands is also a destination and transit hub for illicitly traded fauna and, to a lesser extent, a source country for wild-caught songbirds, waterfowl and birds of prey. Organized crime is not heavily involved in the market, although criminal networks do conduct fauna smuggling operations. Dutch wildlife traders have also been involved in international wildlife smuggling rings, focusing mostly on live reptiles and birds from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Schiphol Airport acts as a key transit point for illicit wildlife smuggled from Latin America and Africa to Asia and the US. The traders involved in the market commit fraud and engage in tax evasion, and money laundering as illicit profits can be substantial. Regarding non-renewable resource crimes, the Dutch Caribbean is a popular trading hub for gold trafficking from Venezuela to Europe. Criminal actors involved in gold trafficking and illegal mining activities generally overlap with mafia-style groups active throughout Latin America. In addition, Dutch oil companies are linked to corruption and illegalities in Africa and Latin America.

    Drugs

    The Netherlands can be considered a global leader when it comes to the production, export and consumption of synthetic drugs. It is thought to be among the largest, if not the largest producer of amphetamines and MDMA/Ecstasy in the world. ‘Travellers’ in the south and motorcycle gangs primarily control production. A significant portion of the laboratory equipment, raw materials and chemicals required for synthetic drugs production is sourced from China, making Dutch-Chinese transnational crime an important but often overlooked aspect of the synthetic drugs supply chain. With regard to cocaine, the Netherlands is one of the most significant markets in Europe, serving as a key gateway to Europe from the Americas. The cocaine trade mainly concerns big scale imports from South America. Whereas Amsterdam is the epicentre of drug distribution, Utrecht also plays a key role in the international cocaine trade. Albanian mafia groups dominate the market in the Netherlands.

    The Netherlands is also well known for its domestic production and export of cannabis, and cannabis is also the most popular illicit substance used amongst adults. The use of Ecstasy and cocaine, in comparison, is much lower. Morocco is a key origin country for most of the hashish sold in the Netherlands and Moroccan gangs are increasingly involved in the production of cannabis within the country too. Overall, the local market is moderate and dominated by tourists. Additionally, given the toleration of cannabis, the market takes place in the open and is not considered a significant source of local violence, though supply chains remain illegal and uncontrolled. The heroin trade is on the small to moderate scale in the Netherlands, as the country primarily operates as a transit point. However, while local heroin consumption is declining, there has been an increase in heroin trade, transit and production. The heroin market contributes to gang feuds and rivalries. Although heroin is not as prevalent as cocaine, the major criminal networks trafficking both drugs are largely identical.

    Criminal Actors

    Most organized crime is run by loose criminal networks. Dutch networks, casually tied by ethnicity, familial and friendship connections, are generally part of what is colloquially known as the penose – the criminal underbelly of the country. However, none of these formations go beyond partially overlapping ad hoc business ties that rely on pre-existing social networks. Criminal networks are involved in street-level drug sales, prostitution and arms trafficking; and there is only medium-level intergroup violence. Networks are concentrated mainly in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Most criminal actors in the Netherlands are not mafia-style organizations but criminal networks without internal cohesion and solidified structures. As a result, Dutch networks can overlap in terms of territory and membership. However, there are numerous outlawed motorcycle gangs active in the Netherlands, which have mafia-type organizations. These motorcycle gangs are involved in various criminal markets, including the production and trade of synthetic drugs, arms trafficking and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation and prostitution. Furthermore, although these groups do not carry weapons openly, weapons have been found at their headquarters.

    There are prominent foreign actors involved in criminal markets in the Netherlands. There is also an increasing amount of inter-connectedness between these actors. Furthermore, there is evidence of a moderate number of low-level state-embedded actors facilitating criminal markets through information leaks and police infiltration. There is also corruption on the municipal level involving the building industry.

    Leadership and governance

    Since the 1990s, organized crime has been a clear governmental priority. Nevertheless, opposition parties do not usually raise organized crime as a campaigning issue, which may be because organized crime is not perceived to directly affect public safety. This perception is slightly different in Amsterdam, where the social impact of human trafficking and the narcotics trade are perhaps more visible. More recently, the government has taken a more diverse view of criminal actors involved, acknowledging the variety of actors from loose criminal networks to transnational groups. There has also been a shift within law enforcement towards recognizing that the Netherlands is, with slight variations per substance, a destination as well as production and transit country for illicit markets. While corruption is, overall, not seen as a major issue, a number of scandals have emerged that involved top public-sector executives. Furthermore, police and customs officials were prosecuted for helping drug traffickers in increasing numbers. However, the mechanisms in place are still effective to investigate and prosecute corruption.

    At the international level, the Netherlands is highly engaged in various forms of cooperation to combat organized crime. The Netherlands has signed all relevant international treaties and conventions addressing organized crime and cooperates on a bilateral level with several countries to combat drug trafficking. On the domestic level, Dutch law criminalizes participation in an organization aiming to commit criminal offences, as well as membership in terrorist organizations. In addition, Dutch law prohibits all forms of human trafficking and criminalizes people who help enable entry to or travel through the Netherlands. The country also has national legislation against drug trafficking and defines drug trafficking as a criminal offence. Although wildlife crime is not a political priority, Dutch legislation against fauna crime is fairly strict. However, there are no specific laws regarding non-renewable resource crimes.

    Criminal justice and security

    The Netherlands has two units in the judiciary branch specifically dedicated to different aspects of transnational organized crime. Furthermore, the judicial system has had multiple successes prosecuting organized crime over the last decade. Overall, the Dutch prison system is seen as less vulnerable to criminal infiltration than some of its neighbours. Additionally, over the course of the last decade, the Netherlands has closed down 23 prisons due to decreasing crime rates. In terms of law enforcement, the Dutch police have a ‘national unit’ responsible for domestic policing, counterterrorism and combating organized crime. Nevertheless, Dutch law enforcement has faced claims of taking a naive stance against transnational organized crime and understaffing its forces. Regarding territorial integrity, given its port and central location, the Netherlands is one of the major trafficking routes for drugs, illicit firearms, and people. As part of the Schengen area, the Netherlands also has no permanent physical border controls for those within the region. The Dutch border police question everyone travelling outside of the Schengen area, while a separate mobile control force conducts police checks at the Belgian and German borders, with a particular eye on illegal immigration and transborder crime.

    Economic and financial environment

    Since the 1990s, the Netherlands has focused on reducing administrative burdens for business. The minister of justice has announced intentions to intensify the coordination of anti-organized crime checks and regulations, together with the business sector, to prevent criminal actors from exploiting legitimate businesses for illicit purposes, such as money laundering. Particularly vulnerable are service providers in the financial, administrative and juridical sectors. At the municipal level, particularly in Amsterdam, the private sector is engaged in countering vulnerabilities to organized crime. Business crimes may be handled at any level, but severe corporate crimes are dealt with on the national level. Money laundering is a big issue in the Netherlands. Significant investigations regarding money laundering and organized crime have been reported. Money laundering is prosecuted by the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, which has the power to forfeit and confiscate objects, including the proceeds of crime.

    Civil society and social protection

    In the Netherlands, support for human trafficking victims is largely government funded but provided for by non-governmental organizations. The government is also active in expanding the rights of victims. Currently, potential victims are allowed to stay in the country for three-months, which gives them time to decide whether or not to assist law enforcement. During this time, victims from non-EU countries have access to specialized shelters. They are, however, not allowed to work. They are eligible for a B-8 temporary residence permit, if they decide to testify against their alleged trafficker, and the authorities decide to prosecute. If B-8 status is maintained for at least three years, or if their trafficker was convicted, victims have the right to permanent residency. Some non-governmental organizations have raised concerns that this process can be harmful to the victim. In regards to prevention, the Netherlands has no national prevention strategy against organized crime in place. Instead, the focus is on its efforts on national coordination via the various judicial and law enforcement branches and institutions of government. Meanwhile, in order to prevent organized crime, the police analyze and monitor the logistics of transnational organized crime to disrupt criminal efforts. There are also several research hubs in the country dedicated to studying organized crime. The media play a key role in sharing information from non-governmental organizations to the public, and thus provide a voice for state and non-state actors alike. Overall, the Netherlands has a high level of media freedom.

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    The criminal markets score is represented by the pyramid base size and the criminal actors score is represented by the pyramid height, on a scale ranging from 1 to 10. The resilience score is represented by the panel height, which can be identified by the side of the panel.

    This report was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of State.

    ENACT is funded by the European Union and implemented by the Institute for Security Studies and INTERPOL, in affiliation with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

    The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.