A Dutch court sentenced drug trafficking pioneer Ridouan Taghi to a lifelong prison sentence. Despite Taghi’s role in creating a global network to import drugs, his conviction will have little effect on the cocaine pipeline into Europe. 

Dutch-Moroccan Taghi and two others were convicted on February 27 for five homicides, two attempted homicides, and planning several other murders. 

The trial, known as the Marengo process, lasted six years and involved 16 defendants, including Taghi. It was unprecedented in size and duration for the Netherlands. In addition to the three life sentences, another 13 co-conspirators were sentenced to between two and 29 years. 

Although Taghi had been on the authorities’ radar for cocaine trafficking for years, the Dutch case focused on a series of murders, part of a wave of violent tit-for-tat killings in the Dutch underworld which started in 2012, when a cocaine shipment did not arrive in the port of Antwerp.

SEE ALSO: The Cocaine Pipeline to Europe

The five killings covered in the trial took place in 2015 and 2016 throughout the Netherlands. Taghi ordered the murders of Ronald Bakker and Samuel Erraghib because he believed they had been passing information to the authorities. One victim, Ranko Scekic, had formerly worked as a hitman for Taghi and was killed after becoming a witness against him.

The journalist Martin Kok, who had a criminal past, was killed for writing about Taghi, using his criminal sources for insider information. The fifth victim, Hakim Changachi, was killed accidentally when Taghi’s assassins got the wrong target. This last murder pushed Nabil B., one of Taghi’s associates, to testify against him in exchange for a reduced sentence. 

In response, Taghi allegedly ordered three more homicides after the Marengo trial had started. These attacks on civilians with no criminal ties shocked the normally tranquil Netherlands. Nabil B.’s brother Redouan was killed on  March 29, 2018 in his office in Amsterdam. A year-and-a-half later, on September 18, 2019, hitmen killed Nabil B.’s lawyer Derk Wiersum. On July 6, 2021, Peter R. de Vries, a famous journalist and confidant of Nabil B. in the Marengo trial was shot after leaving a TV studio in Amsterdam. He died days later.

These three murders are being tried in separate ongoing cases.

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite the sentencing of Taghi and several of his top associates, the cocaine trafficking infrastructure that he created remains, and the cocaine trade in Europe continues to grow. 

Taghi began his criminal career by selling hashish on the street, quickly graduating to importing the drug wholesale from Morocco. His hashish smuggling business turned into a drug trafficking empire after he switched to trafficking cocaine around 2008.

In the 15 years that followed, cocaine trafficking to Europe via the Netherlands boomed, as the country became one of the main distribution points for the rest of the continent. 

In his heyday, Taghi and his associates imported an estimated third of all the cocaine entering the Netherlands each year — about 33 tons — via the port of Rotterdam, according to police documents accessed by the Dutch Newspaper Algemeen Dagblad in 2019. 

Seizures in the Netherlands skyrocketed from around 10 tons of cocaine a year between 2008 and 2010 to 60 tons in 2023. In the same period, coca cultivation in South America increased, while in the Netherlands the retail price remained fairly stable, and cocaine purity and consumption increased.

Partnerships were key to Taghi’s success.

“We live in a globalized world … It is almost impossible to run [organized crime operations] within an ethnic group because you play on a transnational field” Yarin Eski, criminologist and associate professor in Public Administration at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam said.

On the distribution side, Taghi partnered with some of Europe’s biggest traffickers, including the Italian Camorra mafia and the Irish Kinahan crime group. Together, they formed a network, often referred to as a “supercartel,” that benefited from the contacts of each associate.

“The Netherlands as a location is important, but it’s not so much Dutch groups or Belgian groups,” Thomas Pietschmann, research officer at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told InSight Crime. “There are a lot of other groups who just use the territory and infrastructure of these two countries.” 

SEE ALSO: Was a Super Cartel Really Controlling Europe’s Drug Trade?

Taghi also had strong connections on the supply side. His second-in-command, Said Razzouki, who was also convicted to a life sentence, lived in the outskirts of Medellín, Colombia for years. There, Razzouki organized the export of cocaine to Europe. He allegedly bought cocaine from the Gaitanistas (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC). Colombian authorities arrested Razzouki in 2020 and extradited him the following year. 

Several other members of Taghi’s network were arrested in Latin America and the Caribbean and Suriname, including the alleged number three, Mao Romo, who was also convicted to life for the murders in the Marengo trial. 

But the infrastructure that Taghi helped create has continued to import cocaine in greater quantities even after the arrests and convictions of Taghi and others in his organization. 

“What really has been the most important trend in Europe over the last few years was the massive increase in cocaine,” Pietschmann said. 

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