Secret tracking of lawyers led to Dubai capture of most-wanted fugitive

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A covert surveillance mission by Dutch police that tracked a pair of lawyers to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where they were observed boarding a plane to Dubai, helped lead to the capture of Europe's top fugitive.

An international arrest warrant had been issued for Ridouan Taghi in 2018, and officials had issued a €100,000 (Dh408,000) reward for his capture. Yet it was only when a cross-border operation was launched with Dubai Police last year that a breakthrough was possible.

The lawyers, Nico Meijering and Leon van Kleef, were seen boarding a flight to the UAE in June 2019 after officials received a tip-off that they were travelling to meet suspects wanted by European law enforcement. Their departure eventually led to what Dubai Police have revealed was a 10-day stake out at the luxury villa hideout of the suspected Dutch crime lord.

"Identification of [Taghi's] whereabouts and his arrest were of the highest priority, given the very serious allegations against him," the Dutch prosecutor’s office, the Openbaar Ministerie, told local newspapers this week. "He is being held responsible for ordering a large number of assassinations."

Lawyers Juriaan de Vries, Benedicte Ficq, Nico Meijering, Christian Flokstra, Laura ter Steeg (left to right) arrive at an 'extra secure' court in the Netherlands on August 27. AFP
Lawyers Juriaan de Vries, Benedicte Ficq, Nico Meijering, Christian Flokstra, Laura ter Steeg (left to right) arrive at an 'extra secure' court in the Netherlands on August 27. AFP

Dubai Police subsequently informed officials from the Netherlands that the lawyers had not met Mr Taghi, but instead a man accused of being a middleman in his organisation, only known as Khalid J.

It was this sighting of the associate that led to the subsequent bust. The lawyers were never engaged by Mr Taghi.

Khalid J was deported by the UAE from Dubai to Amsterdam in January this year and Mr Taghi is now in a top-security prison in Amsterdam awaiting trial.

Police approach criticised

Security around the Schiphol court has been boosted for the case. EPA
Security around the Schiphol court has been boosted for the case. EPA

Mr Meijering has criticised the police for following the legal team for a suspect and says the move puts lawyers in danger.

"Any resulting arrest could easily be misinterpreted," he told Dutch newspaper AD. “The lawyer's client may think the lawyer gave him up to the police, for example.”

The Dutch Bar Association and the association for criminal defence lawyers NVSA have also raised concerns.

"It can seriously endanger the safety of lawyers," Petra van Kampen of the Bar Association said.

The Dutch authorities had been under mounting pressure to apprehend Mr Taghi following a number of murders in 2018.

A key witness called Nabil B had allegedly told prosecutors that Mr Taghi was behind these murders.

It is alleged that Mr Taghi ordered the murder of Nabil's brother in March 2018 after his testimony.

He also allegedly ordered the murder of Nabil's lawyer, Derk Wiersum, last September.

It is alleged he ran a hit squad called "the Angels of Death".

Many of the killings he is believed to have ordered were said to be either revenge killings or related to turf wars.

It was also alleged that Mr Taghi was behind a third of Europe’s cocaine trade and is rumoured to have made €100 million from dealing.

Dubai Police said his capture highlighted "the influential contribution of the UAE to fighting crime globally".

Updated: September 1, 2020 05:53 PM

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