Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever has hit back at critics from within the justice system of his administration’s war on drugs. Antwerp has in recent weeks been the scene of what appears to be a turf war between rival drugs gangs battling for control over the import of drugs through the busy international port.
Earlier this week, a member of the judicial police and a member of the prosecutor’s office, both specialised in fighting the drugs traffic, hit out in Humo magazine (paywall) at De Wever’s approach to the problem.
Since taking office in 20013, De Wever has set up the so-called Kali team of drugs squad officers, named after the many-armed Hindu goddess. But the officers interviewed argue the team of police, magistrates and economic inspectors is too limited for the task.
Manolo Tersago, head of the drugs division of the judicial police, said his officers had long been arguing for another approach, including the involvement of the special investigations unit of the tax authorities – but the law prevents it.
“People want to work together and exchange information at many levels,” he told the magazine. “But they’re not allowed to. Nevertheless, that’s how you have to tackle criminals: through their wallets.”
Local police, under the control of the mayor, have done “a fantastic job” of tackling street dealers, Tersago said. But the mayor has failed to follow through by aiming for the criminals above street level.
“The level above the street dealers is where the big money circulates,” Tersago said. “You can see that from the clothing, the travel and the expensive wristwatches of these men. And they set up all sorts of shell companies. In some streets you’ll find ten hairdressers with not a customer among them, which exist only to launder crime money.”
According to Ken Witpas, a prosecutor specialised in the drugs trade, the city has done little or nothing for prevention. “Drugs users are left to their own devices,” he said. “Those people who are now calling for more arrests are the same as those who argued for cuts in drugs assistance, and who sent all the local street workers home.”
De Wever himself responded via Belga news agency. “A strengthening of the cooperation with the prosecutor’s office and the judicial police is exactly what we want. If the police services are only interested in pointing the finger, then the criminals are the ones who benefit. The people of Antwerp have nothing to gain from this sort of comments.”