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.”

The German perspective 12 years after the Duisburg massacre


Exactly 12 years ago, on 15th August 2007, the Duisburg massacre shook Germany and turned the spotlight on the ‘ndrangheta, a criminal organization which, until then, had been particularly silent outside its own territories of origin.

On the night of August 15, 2007, six men between the ages of 16 and 39 lost their lives, all originating in the province of Reggio Calabria, except for Tommaso Venturi, originally from Corigliano Calabro, who was turning 18 years old on that day. The victims were hit by two killers at the exit of the Italian restaurant ”Da Bruno”, where they had spent the evening to celebrate the birthday of the friend. The renowned restaurant in the town in North Rhine-Westphalia was already known to the Italian and German police as a place of money laundering. The killers, to ensure the success of the ambush, cooled each of their victims with a final blow to the head. The burnt image of St. Michael the Archangel was found in the clothes of the celebrant, a sign of a possible affiliation to the clan celebrated just that evening.

The Duisburg massacre, also known as the Ferragosto massacre, is the last episode of the bloody feud of San Luca, which began in 1991 and which saw the Nirta-Strangio oppose the Pelle-Vottari-Romeo. The feud, which apparently began for futile reasons, has seen a series of settlements of accounts, often perpetrated in days significant from the symbolic and religious point of view. The aim of hitting one’s enemies during the festivities is to make the pain of the victim’s relatives even deeper, so that one day of celebration becomes a day of mourning forever.

According to this scheme, the clash between the warring factions was re-ignited by the murder of Maria Strangio, wife of the boss Giovanni Nirta, which took place in San Luca on 25 December 2006, in an ambush whose main objective was the Calabrian boss. The weapons used on that occasion came from Duisburg.

It is in this framework that the decision of the Nirta-Strangio to attack their rivals even abroad, in Germany, more than 2000 km away from San Luca (RC), is to be traced back, running the enormous risk of attracting the attention of the forces of law and order and public opinion to themselves, unexpectedly defeating the strategy of camouflage which had had been enormously successful, allowing the ‘ndrangheta to take root and reproduce its own organizational model also abroad. Behind the attack of Duisburg, however, there was not only a thirst for revenge. There was also the will to reaffirm one’s own criminal power and to obtain control of the illicit traffics in the region. Drug trafficking generated enormous profits and the region of North Rhine-Westphalia was a strategic junction, given its proximity to the border with Holland, where drug shipments from South America arrived at its ports. Over the years, the Calabrian clans have carried out a real territorial division of the German Land. The Nirta-Strangio, for example, control the Kaarst area, while the Pelle-Vottari-Romeo extend their dominion over the Duisburg area. In this case, the Rhine River separates the respective areas of influence of the rival clans.

Germany is the European country where the ‘ndrangheta has managed to penetrate more effectively, despite the apparent cultural incompatibility. The massacre of Ferragosto showed all the ease of action and confidence of the criminal organization of Calabrian origin that is, one step at a time, colonizing the German territory. This episode, however, has revealed to the whole world the ferocious and criminal nature of the ‘ndrangheta. The excessive exposure has undoubtedly had negative effects for the organization, at least in the immediate future.

The German public opinion, in fact, has finally realized its existence. The Italian and German investigative authorities have developed a fruitful relationship of collaboration which has led, in the period following the massacre, to the capture and arrest of numerous affiliates involved in the feud of San Luca.

On the one hand, there were already several signs that indicated a strong penetration of the ‘ndrangheta in Germany. On the other hand, however, they were long underestimated and only the shock caused by the Duisburg massacre opened the eyes of public opinion and institutions. However, the initial astonishment soon made room for ‘removal’ by German society. The image of Duisburg – and of the whole of Germany – could not be polluted by the presence of the mafia. The negative image had to be erased and the episode forgotten. Once the trial for the facts of Duisburg was transferred to Italy, for Germany the case was to be considered closed. The matter was considered a business between Calabrians, a problem of Italy. This removal greatly facilitated the ‘ndrangheta, who returned to silence and became peaceful internally. Too much exposure had been a mistake and it was now necessary to give priority to business rather than internal disputes. What is striking about the ‘ndrangheta and which can also be seen by analysing the facts of Duisburg is its dual nature: on the one hand, it is a modern organisation, it takes advantage of the opportunities offered by globalization and is oriented towards profit; on the other hand, it maintains its own ancestral customs, its ties with the motherland and its rituals.

In addition to the removal by society, the ‘ndrangheta can also exploit to its own advantage the shortcomings of the German legislation, which is very weak in terms of the fight against the mafias. In Germany, for example, there is no crime of mafia association, as provided for within the Italian legal system (416 bis). The German legislation, in fact, specifies only the criminal association, through Article 129 of the Criminal Code. There is also a lack of legislation on the seizure and confiscation of property. Following the Second World War, in stark contrast to the totalitarian regime of the past, Germany adopted legislation that was strongly geared to protecting the individual. For this reason, everything that concerns the confiscation of personal property and property is very difficult to implement. German law, while in some cases providing for the possibility of seizure and confiscation of property, does not allow this to happen in a preventive manner and provides that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. All this represents an enormous limitation in the fight against the mafias. If there were greater awareness of the seriousness of the risk faced by society, these obstacles could be overcome.

The ‘ndrangheta is aware of these limits, knows that it is unlikely that Germany will adopt more effective measures in matters of confiscation of goods and therefore transforms the country into one of the main centers in which to launder the proceeds of illicit trafficking.

It is also difficult to talk about the mafia in Germany. Journalists often find themselves fighting against legislation which, in view of the extreme protection of the individual mentioned above, does not allow them to write freely about the subject. Journalists are sometimes silenced through censorship. This is the case, for example, of Petra Reski, a German investigative journalist who, after having received several complaints, has been blackened by the authorities with her book “Santa Mafia” (original title: Mafia. Von Paten, Pizzerien und falschen Priestern). Given the absence of the crime of mafia association in Germany, it is not possible to attribute links with the mafia to persons who have not already been convicted in Italy for 416 bis. There is also the right to social rehabilitation, so you cannot appoint in full (name and surname) convicted persons who have already served their sentence. Their history can be told, but people can only be named using abbreviations. The mafia in Germany can therefore make use of the lawsuit, which is much more convenient and less risky than threats and intimidation, with ample chance of success. To be the victim of these dynamics was also a documentary broadcast by the television station MDR, which focused on the economic activities of ‘ndrangheta in Erfurt, a town in Turinga that represents a real Eden for the money laundering by the criminal organization of Calabria. After having suffered a series of complaints, the documentary was also censored. Life for investigative journalists in Germany is therefore particularly difficult, there are disincentives to write about the mafia and often the publishers themselves are not willing to run the risk of publishing news on the subject to avoid running into legal trouble.

Twelve years after the events in Duisburg, the situation regarding the fight against the mafias in Germany is not the rosiest. There are many issues on which we should work and insist. First, there is a need for greater awareness of the danger of the mafia phenomenon and the risks it represents for society. Secondly, despite the presence of virtuous experiences dedicated to raising awareness on the subject, there is a need to build larger networks, which also extend to places – such as East Germany – where now there are no active realities on the anti-mafia front. There is also a need to offer more free information on the subject and of greater quality, where the fight against stereotypes of the mafias is another important issue. Finally, as we have seen in the section on this subject, it is essential to adopt legislative instruments to combat this phenomenon, which are appropriate to the scale of the phenomenon we intend to combat.

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.

Is laundering money in Spielothekes possible?


Walking Berlin’s streets it is impossible not to notice the overwhelming amount of shiny, colorful „SPIELOTHEK” signs, sometimes placed one next to another. As an example: Sonnenallee in Neukölln, where the Spielothekes have taken over the reins. Something that – on the first glimpse – looks like a harmless counterfeit of western casinos, in reality might be the „habitat” of organized crime groups’ activities. It is suspected that the slot machines (the most common device in Spielhalles) can be tampered, in order to funnel money into the legal system. The study shows that from 2006 to 2012 the number of slot machines has increased by four and the sector’s turnover has raised by 40%.

500 euro bill – help for mobsters?


The idea of withdrawing 500 euro bill from circulation reappears in public debate every now and then. In 2010, the United Kingdom was the first to ban the sale of the note by exchange offices even though the country is not a member of the Eurozone. Now, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) calls on the European Central Bank (ECB) to reconsider withdrawing the banknote as it is a comfortable tool for mobsters to smuggle tainted money. On the other hand, there are countries like Germany or the Netherlands where the tradition of using tangible money instead of electronic one (like credit cards, cheques etc.) still prevails. So what are the main concerns that act in favor of  withdrawing the purple bill?

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.

Deutsche Bank in dire straits


Recent years have been no sunshine and rainbows for Deutsche Bank – one of the most powerful worldwide-known institution. Next week, the bank will announce a record loss, the highest in its history: 6,7 bln euros. That downturn is surely correlated to many dubious deals executed by the bank in the past years for which it will be answerable now. But in this story, the most staggering is that, apparently, intricate criminal-like structures can grow only if equipped with the jurisdiction’s, tax advisors’ and – indeed – financial institutions’ support. Thanks to such a team, bank’s operations   are susceptible to oscillate in the grey area, jurisdictional void, simply toying with rules and regulations.