AMSTERDAM—The country’s most high-profile crime reporter had been coaching the star witness in one of the Netherland’s most explosive trials. Two associates were already dead before the crucial evidence could be heard in court, and Peter R. de Vries believed that he too was on the hit list.
On Tuesday night as de Vries left a TV station in the center of Amsterdam, he was felled in a hail of bullets. Reports suggested that at least one of them struck him in the head.
The alleged drug kingpin at the center of the sprawling trial is charged in connection with six murders and four attempted murders. Dutch prosecutors suspect that he is also behind the assassinations of the brother and lawyer of the snitch who is due to testify against him, although they admit they have insufficient evidence to press charges.
De Vries is the third associate of the witness—a former drug gang insider known in court as Nabil. B—to be targeted by a hit squad. Five shots were heard at around 7.30 p.m. Tuesday. Dutch police said they had arrested two men, one of whom they suspect was the shooter. A Polish man, 35, and a Dutchman, 21, remain in custody and a third man has since been released.
The investigative reporter is said to be fighting for his life. “Yesterday our biggest nightmare has become a reality,” his son wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
Henny de Vos, a former editor of de Vries’ TV show, told The Daily Beast that the alleged crime boss turned high-profile defendant Ridouan Taghi was an obvious suspect.
“A few people around the crown witness have become murder victims,” he said. “Nabil B.’s brother, his lawyer, and now his confidant were all targeted. It makes it credible that Taghi was behind it, but I don’t know for sure.”
De Vos worked closely with the reporter and says he has absolute faith in de Vries’ claims that he was on Taghi’s hit list. “I know Peter well enough to know he wouldn't say that unless it was true. If he says something like that, it always is.”
De Vries has been supporting and advising Nabil B. in the so-called “Marengo trial” of Taghi and 16 alleged accomplices.
Taghi, 43, was born in Morocco but grew up in the Dutch town of Vianen. The court has heard that he and his gang are considered major international drug dealers, who operate hit squads for hire. They are said to have no qualms about targeting people from outside the criminal underworld.
Taghi is alleged to maintain his position by striking fear into the hearts of his enemies—and their relatives and friends are not exempt. In his role as a counselor to the crown witness in this trial, de Vries would be considered a ‘friend’ of the top snitch Nabil B.
Taghi started his career in petty crime with break-ins and low-level drug trade, but he soon became one of the most feared and ruthless criminals in the international drug business, according to the prosecution.
Dutch police say they gained clear insight into the running of the criminal enterprise, and Taghi’s role at the head of it, by accessing encrypted communications on the phones of his gang.
The PGP encrypted network led them to a large weapons cache in 2015 and an arrest warrant was issued against Taghi, who fled the country. He was eventually traced to a villa in Dubai in 2019, arrested, and extradited back to the Netherlands.
The attack on de Vries, which is gripping the nation, was condemned by the outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte as “an attack on a courageous journalist and with that an attack on free journalism, which is so crucial to our democracy.” The Dutch king Willem Alexander called it “an attack on the Dutch state.”
The exact same words were used after a similar attack two years ago on Nabil B.’s lawyer Derk Wiersum. He too was gunned down in broad daylight in a lofty Amsterdam suburb.
De Vries, 64, is not just the most high-profile investigative reporter in the Netherlands, he became a global figure after the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, an American teenager who went missing in Aruba in 2005. He won an Emmy for his investigation into the alleged involvement of Dutchman Joran van der Sloot in her disappearance.
Beth Holloway, Natalee’s mother, told The Daily Beast she had stayed in touch with him in the intervening years. “It’s actually devastating. I’m just praying that he will pull through,” she said. “It’s hard to absorb and process that something this horrific could happen.”
De Vries, who is married with two kids, had a brief stint in politics in 2003, but has mostly focused on his reporting. He was sometimes accused of being too friendly with criminals—like soft drugs trader Klaas Bruinsma—but always maintained it had no bearing on his professionalism.
He was working on a host of cold cases he was trying to crack, making him a potential target to many criminals aside from Taghi.
One of those was Willem Holleeder, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of six people including his brother-in-law, Cor van Hout in 2019.
Holleeder had become infamous decades earlier after the kidnapping of beer heir Freddy Heineken—with van Hout and three others in 1983. They were paid around $10 million in ransom money.
Holleeder was sentenced in 2009 to 9 years imprisonment for numerous offenses, including threatening people. In 2016, he was sentenced to four additional months of prison time for threatening to kill Peter R. de Vries.
De Vries knew Holleeder relatively well. He even considered himself a friend of van Hout. It’s not exactly clear why Holleeder wanted to target de Vries. But then, Holleeder was notoriously unpredictable and extremely paranoid.
It seems Holleeder was not the last person who wanted this reporter dead.