The Netherlands and illegal drugs

26 August 2018 - Inconvenient thruths

Nothing to be proud of from the pages of a new report "The Netherlands and synthetic drugs: an inconvenient truth" published by the Dutch National Police Academy (pdf here) The Dutch are global leaders in the manufacture of illegal synthetic drugs (XTC and amphetamines) with an conservative estimated annual turnover of 18 billion euro. For comparison Dutch chemicals company AkzoNobel in 2017 had 10 billion euro in revenues with 37000 employees.

The amount paid to the producers directly is modest: only 600 million of the 18 billion cake but production costs are laughable (20 cents for an XTC pill) compared to the street value (13 euro in Sweden). The reports attempts to explain the Dutch success. Key reasons: the country has always been slow in banning newly arriving drugs giving the criminals a head start in the international competition and in the country jail time for offences is also favourable.

Traditionally the fight against the illegal drug trade has been fought by blocking access to the raw materials, none of which are produced in the country itself. In 2017 the authorities are losing this battle due to the arrival of so-called pre-precursors. Example, a traditional precursor for PMK is safrole sourced from Thailand. This is an oily substance and every customs or police official knows by now how to spot it. PMK methyl glycidate on the other hand is a solid pre-precursor and PMK replacement and not on the customs radar. The example mentioned in the report is that of APAA as a pre-precursor for APAAN (alpha-phenylacetoacetonitrile). APAA exists solely for the illegal drug production and has otherwise no legal use. How it differs from APAAN (just out of chemical curiosity) this blog was unable to find out. Google does not know it or does not want us to know.

What is else is mentioned in the report. The authors almost admire the illegal drugs industry for their international networking capabilities, "collective intelligence" and their agility. The industry is also innovative. Interesting quote: "Evidently, modern organizational and management theories (networking, improvisation) were intuitively employed in the criminal world long before they came into vogue in the legitimate corporate world".

But if 18 billion euro is made from the trade each year where does it all go? The report simply states "We simply do not know where the cash goes or flows". Now, this blog is going to make a not-so-well-researched connection having recently watched an episode of the Netflix documentary "Dirty Money" on cartel banks (Link). The documentary describes the HSBC money laundering involvement on behalf of the Mexican drug cartels. National Police Academy: look no further.

Update 04 September: criminologist Ton Nabben is not impressed by the numbers presented in the report (Link). According to Nabben the report implies Dutch customers consume on average 2 grams of amphetamine per day. Highly unlikely.

Update 04 September: no, this blog not imagining things, now the Dutch bank ING is fined 700 million euro for looking the other way for several years when rogue customers did their money laundering. The illegal drug trade was not mentioned in the reports though.

Update 07 September. No, the estimates are not high enough according to Dutch water research institute KWR. (link) The domestic drugs use can be accurately measured in a laboratory by looking at chemical residues in sewage. This way the 390.000 Dutch XTC users consume 1 pill per week. The remaining XTC surplus is exported and because retail prices then increase, the turnover figures also increase.