Fight against subversive crime asks for joint action

Customs makes a vital contribution to the government-wide approach against subversive crime. The main aim is to render criminal networks harmless for a longer period of time.

The boundaries between ‘ordinary’ society and organised crime are becoming increasingly blurred. In the past year, the government has considerably strengthened its approach to what is known as subversive crime. This approach is government-wide, and Customs makes an essential contribution to it. We do this by supervising at the border and by working closely together with partners. Customs officers Laura Verborg, advisor on subversive crime, and Jochem Koster, advisor on enforcement policy, know all about this.

 Subversive crime is all about an underworld and legitimate society becoming increasingly intertwined. And about ‘damaging’ the integrity of public administration, civil servants and the business community. For example, in cases where criminals bribe managers or extort entrepreneurs. Or threaten judges, journalists and others in authority. Koster: “One of the most striking and saddest examples is the murder of lawyer Derk Wiersum. That was a direct attack on the rule of law. It was a wakeup call.”

Subversive crime is often mentioned in the same breath as organised drug crime. But there are also other forms of crime that disrupt society, says Verborg. “For example, human trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering or fraud with excise goods.” Koster: “A good deal of work is being done to combat this kind of thing. By all government departments separately. But it also has to be done together, broadly and in a well-coordinated way.”

Stopping undesirable imports
Customs makes a vital contribution to tackling subversive crime. “We’re not an investigative agency, of course. What we are is a gatekeeper at the border: we keep out everything that is undesirable at the border of the European Union. We also prevent certain goods, such as synthetic drugs, from getting out”, Verborg says. Last year, for example, Customs seized around 50,000 kilos of cocaine. That is almost 10,000 kilos more than in 2019. Some 4,000 parcels and letters en route to foreign countries were also seized. Verborg: “By providing the best possible supervision, we contribute to the fight against subversive crime. That is all part of our work.”

Smart, focused and innovative
In the past year, Customs has carried out more than twice as many ‘risk-based’ inspections. Especially on letters and parcels. We hired 39 extra FTEs for our supervision over postal and courier items. Also in 2020, we shifted our focus more to the smuggling of drug precursors. Not only do we check more, we check smarter. Not only with sniffer dogs and innovative scanning and detention technologies, but also with self-thinking software and algorithms. We also make targeted risk analyses. We base them on information from investigative partners, among other sources.

Integral approach
A condition for a successful and sustainable fight against subversive crime is an integrated approach. An approach in which public and private parties work together in prevention, supervision, enforcement, detection and prosecution. Koster: “We therefore look beyond our own remit. For example, we often sit down with other government organisations. But we also work closely with the Port of Rotterdam, the Schiphol Group and KLM, among others. We constantly ask ourselves: how can we back each other up? Where do our knowledge and expertise add value?”

Customs knows all about goods flows, trade routes, smuggling methods and logistical locations. This is valuable for cooperation partners. “We can analyse and explain that information: when does an event deviate from the norm, and is a further investigation required?”, explains Koster. “But we also have, for example, a large source of information on all the declarations. We know what is in each shipment and who the receiver and the sender is. We can share that kind of data with our partners under certain conditions, for investigative purposes and data analysis.”

Verborg: “We also have all kinds of powers to check goods. For example, we can look inside ships, planes, containers and suitcases to do our job. The police and the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee are only allowed to do so if they suspect a criminal offence has been committed. We do not have that limitation. That gives us an excellent starting position, with which we can make an essential contribution to the cooperation.”

Multidisciplinary Intervention Team
Customs is part of the Multidisciplinary Intervention Team, the MIT. Just like the Public Prosecution Service, the police, FIOD, Tax and Customs Administration and the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee. This cooperation was established in 2020 on the initiative of the Ministry of Justice and Security, which has made a lot of extra funding available for a more robust approach to subversive crime. The MIT is still under construction. Eventually, it is to become a team with around 300 to 400 employees.

The special thing about this team: it focuses on disrupting criminal processes. Verborg: “In doing so, we do not look only at the leaders and the accomplices. But we take a much broader view: what system does a criminal organisation like this use?” Koster adds: “With a team of detectives, customs officers and intelligence people, we are looking into how to render these kinds of networks harmless for a longer period of time and across the board.” Verborg: “That strengthening of the chain of enforcement and investigation partners is a brand-new development. As Customs we are now looking much more at our part in the whole.”

This interview also appeared in our recently issued overview ‘Dutch Customs in 2020’. Click here to read the full publication.

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