…A Dutch journalist exposed the mob and defied death threats. Now he’s been shot in the head.
Celebrity crime reporter Peter R. de Vries, 64, was taken to the hospital in serious condition after he was shot on a street in Amsterdam on July 6.
It was evening in Amsterdam when Peter R. de Vries stepped out of the television studio and into the busy downtown streets. Decades of investigating cold-case killings and mob hits had earned the silver-haired 64-year-old accolades and a reputation as one of the most famous journalists in the Netherlands.
His career in crime reporting had also earned him death threats, but friends said he laughed off the danger, claiming recently that the last time he was scared was as a schoolboy.
Shortly after leaving the TV studio on Tuesday, de Vries was shot.
Videos on social media showed him lying on the street in Amsterdam’s canal district with blood coming from his head.
“He was seriously wounded and is fighting for his life,” Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema told reporters. “He is a national hero to us all. A rare, courageous journalist who tirelessly sought justice.”
Authorities initially detained three men but later released one, saying he was no longer a suspect. A 35-year-old Polish national and a 21-year-old from Rotterdam remain in custody, police said.
De Vries had been advising a key witness in the high-profile trial of the alleged leader of a gang that authorities have called an “oiled killing machine.”
The Netherlands has one of the lowest violent crime rates in Europe. But its long shoreline, numerous ports and excellent infrastructure have made it a major hub for drug trafficking, according to Interpol.
A series of suspected drug-related killings in the mid-2010s led authorities to crack down on a Dutch-Moroccan group known as the Marengo organization. Police arrested more than a dozen alleged members in connection to the slayings, but the alleged ringleader, Ridouan Taghi, eluded custody for years.
A breakthrough came in March 2018, when prosecutors announced the cooperation of a gang member known as Nabil B. who, in exchange for a lighter sentence, gave testimony against Taghi and others that reportedly filled over 1,500 pages.
About a week later, Nabil B.’s brother was killed in what prosecutors later said was a retaliatory hit ordered by Taghi.
Authorities also suspect Taghi in the September 2019 slaying of attorney Derk Wiersum, who represented Nabil B., outside his home in Amsterdam.
“Is the Netherlands becoming a narco-state?” the BBC asked at the time.
By the time Taghi was arrested at a mansion in a wealthy neighborhood of Dubai in December 2019, he had become of Europe’s most wanted fugitives.
Taghi denies the charges. His attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
As Taghi waited to stand trial, the key witness against him turned to an unlikely person for advice: Peter R. de Vries.
The journalist had made a name for himself in the 1980s covering the kidnapping of beer magnate Freddy Heineken, eventually tracking down one of the kidnappers in Paraguay. He later won an International Emmy for investigating the 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba.
His relentlessness often ruffled feathers. One of the Heineken kidnappers was convicted of making threats against de Vries. In 2019, the journalist said prosecutors had told him that Taghi had hired an assassin to kill him — a claim the alleged mob boss, then in hiding, reportedly denied in a letter to de Vries.
Despite the danger of advising Nabil B., who recently said he wouldn’t testify because of security concerns, de Vries did not use bodyguards and was on his own when he left the RTL studio in Amsterdam on Tuesday night, according to the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper.
Authorities declined to say whether de Vries had received police protection, the Associated Press reported.
Saskia Belleman, another crime journalist who described de Vries as “a kind of saint” for the relatives of murder victims, said she was in shock at the news of his shooting.
Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the incident “an attack on the free journalism that is so essential for our democracy, our constitutional state, our society.”
Dutch King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Máxima, also issued a message of support, tweeting that “journalists must be free to carry out their important work without threats.”
*Credit: The Washington Post