AMSTERDAM: Dutch drug kingpin Ridouan Taghi received a life sentence Tuesday for a series of murders his gang committed between 2015 and 2017, in one of the Netherlands’ largest trials.

Taghi, 46, is the alleged mastermind of the Amsterdam-based group that is thought to be one of the Netherlands’s largest cocaine distributors.

“We are sentencing all the suspects. Ridouan Taghi gets life in prison,“ said a judge at the Amsterdam District Court.

Sixteen other suspects were handed sentences between life and one year and nine months.

Taghi was arrested in Dubai in 2019, but despite being held at an ultra-secure prison, prosecutors say Taghi continued pulling the strings, sending secret messages to henchmen on the outside.

Commentators say the “Marengo” trial, named after a judicial codeword for the operation that saw Taghi charged with 16 others, is unprecedented for the Netherlands.

Security around the trial has been extremely tight with judges and prosecutors asking not to be identified. At least three people directly connected to the mega six-year trial have been assassinated.

Heavily-armed police on Tuesday threw a ring of steel around the courthouse on the outskirts of Amsterdam, nicknamed “The Bunker”.

Officers armed with automatic rifles and wearing face masks to protect their identities were guarding the court, while drones and a police helicopter circled overhead.

Taghi and 16 other accused did not face charges for the three murders that occurred during their trial, but faced six other counts of murder and attempted murders -- including ordering some 13 hits -- carried out between 2015 and 2017 mainly against people suspected of becoming police informants.

In one case, a man called Hakim Changachi was gunned down in Utrecht in 2017 in what prosecutors say was a case of mistaken identity.

Shortly afterwards police made a breakthrough in the case, when one of the suspected gang members called “Nabil B.” handed himself over and agreed to become the prosecution’s main witness.

- Wave of violence -

A new wave of violence followed after Nabil B. turned state witness, leaving three people dead in scenes that shocked the nation.

Nabil B.’s brother was murdered in 2018, his lawyer Derk Wiersum was shot dead outside his house in 2019, and the prominent Dutch crime journalist Peter R. de Vries was killed in 2021.

Shot dead in broad daylight in central Amsterdam as he left a television studio, De Vries had said before he was on Taghi’s hit-list.

De Vries acted as Nabil B.’s confidant at the time of his murder.

Taghi’s gang was nicknamed the “Mocro-mafia” because its members are mainly of Moroccan and Antillean origin.

A Dutch subscription channel even made a fictional series named after the gang, set in Amsterdam.

Taghi has denied all charges, and has said money spent on a “sham trial could rather have gone to employing more teachers and police and health care,“ Het Parool newspaper reported.

- ‘Much has happened’ -

None of the suspects made any statements during the trial, which saw several dramatic developments that delayed the process.

Taghi’s lawyer Inez Weski was arrested in April last year, with prosecutors accusing her of passing messages between her client and the outside world.

Her arrest and detention rose eyebrows in the Dutch legal community, Since released, she has yet to be charged, although she remains a suspect.

New lawyers were appointed for Taghi, but they too have since resigned and he has since indicated he would handle his own legal representation.

The prosecution’s case consisted of more than 800 pages with evidence not only from Nabil B., but also conversations from encrypted telephones called “Pretty Good Privacy” (PGP) phones, often favoured by criminal organisations.

Apart from the six life sentences, prosecutors demanded other sentences ranging between five to 26 years, with Nabil B. himself facing 10 years behind bars.

“It’s been a six-year-long process and so much has happened,“ Dutch criminal law advocate Willem Jan Ausma told Dutch breakfast television show WNL.

“None of it pleasant,“ he said. -AFP

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