Combating Money Laundering at a local level: the example of Amsterdam


On September 6, 2019 we participated in the conference on money laundering organized by ”Die Linke” at the Bundestag. On this occasion, the speech of Bas ter Luun, Senior Advisor of the Department of Public Order and Safety at the City of Amsterdam, was very interesting.

The Dutch capital – explained ter Luun during his presentation – is a nerve center of illicit drug trafficking. The consumption is also very high in the city, it is estimated that in 2018 was consumed cocaine worth millions of dollars. Drug traffickers can rely on a network of corrupt brokers to help them locate secure apartments and places where they can carry out their trafficking undisturbed.

In addition, a main concern is money laundering, particularly in the real estate sector. In Amsterdam, the proceeds of illicit trafficking are invested in properties, for example in sectors as catering and restaurants, tourism and other attractions that the city offers. Luxury goods are also a popular target for organised crime in the Netherlands.

In this regard, the city administration takes initiatives and measures to combat money laundering. Firstly, it is essential to study the phenomenon in depth. For this purpose, the city of Amsterdam uses cross-referencing data on income and ownership. The combination of fiscal and housing data is then processed. This information allows us to obtain statistical data and analyse the results to see where the accounts do not add up. There may be cases and areas of interest where income data does not match linearly with ownership data. It is in these cases, therefore, that a wake-up call is triggered, and a more in-depth analysis is carried out.

The operational phase, then, involves the screening of subsidies, permits and local real estate transactions. The approach that is carried out is multi-agency, as more actors are involved (Police, tax and customs administration, legal bodies). It is necessary in this phase to establish a fruitful collaboration between the public and private sectors in the contrast of money laundering and housing fraud.

But what can other cities do to face similar problems, become resilient and follow the example of Amsterdam? First, explains ter Luun, it is necessary to raise awareness and create structures of contrast within the public administration. Then you must work together with stakeholders within society. Moreover, the sharing of information and intelligence between the different law enforcement agencies is fundamental. Finally, it is necessary to cooperate with the other European cities to contrast the money laundering.

Ter Luum’s speech was received with great curiosity and in the margins of the conference he granted us a brief interview.

For us was quite new to hear that a city engages someone responsible for money loundering. How did that happen in Amsterdam?

”It all started in the 90s. There was a parliamentary inquiry and part of it was an investigation in the city centre conducted by criminologists. The conclusions showed that many real estates but also other economic sectors like prostitution and coffee shops were owned by organized crime. In addition, the city itself somehow facilitated all that since permits and licences were granted quite easily. That led to the decision by the city administration in the mid ‘90s to invest in qualified personnel to combat money loundering.’’

Is that a common model for the Netherlands or it is limited only to Amsterdam?

‘’It started in Amsterdam, but soon other cities throughout the country followed the model. On a national level there’s a structure that facilitates the cooperation between different government agencies and that strengthen local authorities and mayors to combat organized crime.’’

Are you also working together and cooperating with police forces?

‘’Yes, we exchange information with them. It happens for a screening of applicants for permits, for example. But we also cooperate in the enforcement of the rules. For instance: in the hospitality industry, coffee shops, bars, there are certain rules enforced by the municipality. In these places there could be a commission of crimes. In some cases, the enforcement of the local government and the police work together to conduct the inspections.’’

The Netherlands have a quite liberal drug policy. Is that interfering somehow with money laundering? In a positive or negative way?

‘’Because of the coffee shop system – where you can sell marijuana – a large industry, which is not regulated, could grow. This industry has a lot of proceeds, makes a lot of money and this money must be invested somewhere.’’

Was it complicated to get an overview of money laundering activities in your town?

‘’I don’t think we have the overview yet. It’s really complicated.’’

Are you also lobbying on national policy makers or is this not part of your job?

It can be part of my job to lobby on national policy makers. For example, when we realize that a certain power or instrument doesn’t work well, we need the legislation to be changed. Hence, we show by cases what has to be done.

Do you have also civil society organizations like ours active in that field in Amsterdam?

‘’Not enough in the field of money loundering. From the outcomes of this conference I observed that is something we need also in our country. Anyhow, in the field of human trafficking and prostitution there is cooperation between the NGO’s and the local government.’’

Could you tell us more about the powers of the Dutch mayors and of the local administrations in the Netherlands? Are there in Germany comparable models of tackling money laundering on the municipal level?

‘’The Dutch mayors are responsible for public order and safety. They have the executive power to close houses or to fill restraining orders. That could be maybe comparable to what happens in Germany. What is peculiar of the Dutch mayors and does not apply to Germany or other countries are the screening instruments they have. A mayor can obtain information from the police, from the tax service and then use these instruments.’’

And of course, one question of interest: what are the prevalent organized crime groups in Amsterdam?

The motorcycle gangs are still there. They do not have a top house in the city anymore, since we managed to get rid of it, but they return occasionally on their vehicles. We see also Albanian networks, in relation to drug trafficking. There are also the old Dutch networks which were quite big at the beginning of this millennium. We see also the networks composed by second and third generation of immigrants who now took over all the positions in the drug trafficking. These are the groups, but the situation it’s more fluid.

And what about the Italian organized crime?

”It is present also in Amsterdam. There are some reports about the presence of ‘ndrangheta clans in the Netherlands.”

Record seizure – Europe flooded with cocaine


On 2nd August 2019, customs in Hamburg announced that 4,500 kilograms of cocaine had been confiscated in the port of Hamburg. This is the largest quantity of cocaine ever confiscated in Germany. The cocaine would have generated about 1.4 billion euros on the market. The drug, that came from South America, was very pure, and one gram of that would costs around 80 euros on the street.

The substance came in soy containers and was packed in sports bags. These containers often contain spare locks for the containers. Even before the containers “officially” arrive at the port, they are opened by special service providers on behalf of criminals, the sports bags are removed and the containers are secured again with the replacement locks, which are exact duplicates of the original locks, so that the removal of the bags is not traceable. This time, for some reason, the procedure didn’t work out and customs secured this immense amount of cocaine before criminals could get it. The substance is taken after confiscation and burnt under supervision.

This intercepted record delivery shows once again that Europe is experiencing a cocaine glut. Demand remains high, and the existing global anti-drug policy appears to be ineffective. Every day, the cocaine market ensures that billions of euros fall into the hands of criminal organisations. That is why it is important to combat money laundering effectively, because it is not only drugs that have a harmful effect, but also the financial gain that they generate. It is known that billions are being laundered in German real estate. It is good that the measures against this are being stepped up. It is extremely questionable why payment for real estate with cash is still permitted. This is an invitation to gangsters from all over the world to invest in Germany. However, a comprehensive fight against money laundering is needed. It must be ruled out that valuables such as used and new automobiles, watches, works of art and jewellery can be used for this purpose. Complicated mechanisms of money laundering such as trading in participations in companies and investments in protective financial instruments such as closed-end funds and trust constructions must also be brought to the fore.

Another aspect of cocaine glut that is often overlooked is the consumer side. Even top politicians consume the substance. However, social elites do not buy their drugs on the street market, but in structures such as luxury restaurants and other suitable outlets. These contacts between drug traffickers and such consumers do not favour the pursuit of the structures that supply these clients. For this reason, too, politically independent public prosecutors in Germany would be an important step in the fight against organised crime.

Why such an immense business as the one in Hamburg went wrong can only be speculated about now. New players are currently trying to gain a foothold in global trade. It remains to be seen whether this circumstance has anything to do with the recent record seizure. It will also be interesting to find out which backers are being investigated. Because a seizure alone is not very meaningful in the end.

Operation „Two Seas” – 11 tons of cocaine with an estimate worth of $3.3 billion seized


In the end of last month, the operation „Two Seas” came to a successful end exposing a multicontinental drug trafficking ring. The Colombian, Italian and US collaboration resulted in the seizure of 11 tons of cocaine with an estimate worth of $3.3 billion. The cocaine smuggling operation from Colombia to Europe was allegedly lead by Franco and Giuseppe Cosimo Monteleone who are said to be ‘Ndrangheta members with the help of local organized crime groups:National Liberation Army (ELN) and bandas criminals known as BACRIM. Each of the aforementioned organization was essential on the operational level and had its own role in the smuggling procedure: the former provided security for drug labs and smuggling routes to the latter that controlled the sea departure points where drugs were hidden in shipments of tropical fruit.

European Week for the fight against organized crime 2015 in Brussels


The European Commission is developing into a major player on the fight against mafia and organized crime in Europe. Brussels’ directives made their mark against money laundering. Also final report of CRIM Committee on European organized crime added fuel to the fire. Now, the European Parliament puts in the limelight this problematic matter. As a result of recent increase of interest in this topic, in November 2015 in, under the auspices of the European Parliament „European Week for the fight against organized crime” took place. Our partner organization Cultura Contro Camorra was among the organizers and Mafia? Nein, danke! e.V. was represented by several delegates. Here is a detailed report on the event.