Pubdate: Sun, 10 Feb 2002
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Telegraph Group Limited
Author: Tony Paterson


THE Netherlands has sent a naval frigate to the Antilles to hunt down 
cocaine dealers and ordered emergency prison cells to be set up after it 
was revealed that drug smugglers were being allowed to walk free because of 
overcrowded jails and courts.

The emergency measures were announced last week after senior customs 
officials at Schiphol, the Netherlands' main airport, wrote a letter to the 
Amsterdam daily Het Parool last month revealing that they had been ordered 
to stop arresting cocaine smugglers arriving from the Dutch Antilles and 

They said that officials had told them that the courts and the prisons 
could no longer cope with the influx caused by a huge increase in smuggling 
from the region. "At a time when our society is being flooded with drugs, 
we are being forced on the express orders of our superiors to stick our 
heads in the sand," complained the customs officers .

They said that as many as 40 so-called "bag-swallowers" - the term given to 
smugglers who transport kilos of cocaine in their intestines after 
swallowing plastic bags packed with the drug - had been discovered on a 
single flight from the Caribbean.

The ban on arrests is believed to have been implemented with the full 
knowledge of Benk Korthals, the Dutch justice minister, who is facing 
demands from MPs for his resignation.

The policy, implemented on the orders of overworked justice officials, 
means that so-called "mules" delivering cocaine to the Netherlands for 
onward smuggling to Britain and other European cities are walking free 
after their haul is seized.

In one case, customs officials admitted that they had released a woman who 
had been found with 14 kilos of the drug in her luggage because the 
authorities could not find a prison cell for her. The officials confiscated 
the drugs but provided the woman with a receipt for her haul's street value 
of about UKP460,000. The measure was designed to reassure her suppliers 
that she had been apprehended and had not pocketed the proceeds herself.

The breakdown in customs policing has infuriated the Dutch airline, KLM, 
which last week put 76 company-funded security men on its flights to the 
Caribbean to clamp down on smuggling, although they have no powers of arrest.

Most smugglers are citizens of the Dutch Antilles and Surinam, the former 
Dutch colony. Many have Dutch passports and most are given free round-trip 
air tickets to Amsterdam by Colombian and Brazilian drug cartels. The 
"mules" are paid about UKP2,000 if they deliver the cocaine to dealers in 
the Dutch capital.

The government disclosed last week that 1,200 airline passengers were 
convicted of cocaine smuggling in Holland last year alone - a 60 per cent 
increase on 2000.

The scandal is a blow to Wim Kok's Socialist-led government, which faces a 
general election in May. The Dutch prime minister has been forced to 
concede that the Netherlands' cocaine smuggling problem has all but run out 
of control.

Mr Korthals, the justice minister, has announced a series of emergency 
measures to combat the problem. Last week a naval frigate was dispatched to 
the Antilles on a mission to hunt down cocaine smugglers. He has also 
ordered 90 prison cells are to be set up at Schiphol airport and the use of 
army barracks as emergency prisons.

Dutch experts say that these measures are unlikely to have a significant 
impact, as 20,000-25,000 cocaine mules are estimated to fly into Schiphol 
annually. Customs police last year detained fewer than one per cent of that 
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