Dutch police 'allowed drug exports to UK': Leonard Doyle reports on allegations that officers failed to warn British authorities of multi-million pound trade

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DUTCH police allowed illegal drugs worth tens of millions of pounds to be exported to Britain by a gang they were investigating, it was claimed yesterday.

The drugs, including two lorryloads of ecstasy pills and amphetamines, plus bales of high-grade Colombian cannabis, were taken across the Channel on commercial ferries. The allegations are contained in a book, Operation Delta, published yesterday by an investigative journalist with the Dutch newspaper Het Parool.

The book alleges that the shipments continued over two years, ending last November when the Dutch police unit investigating the gang was disbanded in disgrace.

The Independent has established separately that the Dutch gang, known as the Urka organisation after its leader, Etienne Urka, has also been implicated in smuggling automatic weapons and more than 100 kilos of Semtex.

The organisation has still not been broken up despite evidence that it made millions of pounds importing more cannabis into the Netherlands than is smoked there annually. Much of the surplus ended up in Britain, with the knowledge of the Dutch anti- drugs police, but British Customs and police were never alerted, the book alleges.

The now discredited Dutch police unit feared that tipping off its British colleagues would interfere with an investigation into an international drugs syndicate which has operated with impunity in the Netherlands for many years.

British Customs have launched an investigation into the allegations but have denied knowledge of any unauthorised shipments being made with the knowledge of the Dutch authorities. 'We do a great deal of work in co- operation with the Dutch authorities,' a spokesman said. 'It is all formally approved and run according to strict procedures and guidelines. We are not aware at present of any operations conducted outside these parameters.'

The Dutch police intelligence unit, known as the Interregional Recherche Team (IRT), was broken up last year when it became known that it had allowed an associate of the Urka organisation to import 40 tons of cannabis from Colombia and turned a blind eye to gangs manufacturing and selling ecstasy and amphetamines.

Bart Middelburg, the co- author of Operation Delta, also alleges that the IRT secretly assisted the Dutch drugs gang by setting up a dummy company and warehousing facilities in Amsterdam. The police failed to penetrate the organisation or make charges against Etienne Urka stick despite two years of undercover observation by a task force of 100 officers. When details of the 'protected deliveries' of drugs emerged last year, the Dutch justice and interior ministers resigned and the IRT unit was disbanded.

British authorities first got wind of the involvement of Dutch police in drug shipments after a lorry was seized in Dagenham, east London, in May last year carrying more than pounds 30m worth of ecstasy pills and amphetamines.

A British Customs liaison officer in The Hague found that the lorry had been observed by IRT officers as it boarded a ferry in Belgium en route to Dover.

A Customs liaison officer attached to the British Embassy in The Hague is said to have protested to the Dutch authorities and to have extracted promises that there would be no further unauthorised 'protected deliveries'.

However, numerous other shipments of cannabis subsequently took place, according to Dutch officials who investigated the IRT.

The affair appears to have soured Dutch relations with Britain at a time when European forces are supposed to be co-operating through Europol, the EU anti-drugs agency based in The Hague.

(Photograph and map omitted)