Customs agent linked to 1,500 kg cocaine bust could get 12 years in prison

1,500 kilos of cocaine found hidden in a mangoes shipment at the port of Rotterdam, 13 Feb 2019
1,500 kilos of cocaine found hidden in a mangoes shipment at the port of Rotterdam, 13 Feb 2019Photo: OM/Public Prosecutor

Prosecutors said a customs officer implicated in a scheme to import hundreds, if not thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the Netherlands should spend 12 years in prison if convicted. The 39-year-old Rotterdam man, Hassan O., was arrested when 1,516 kilograms of the drug, valued at between 68 and 91 million euros, were found hidden among a shipment of mangos at the Port of Rotterdam.

In court last week, prosecutors said O., a married father of two, used the organization's internal systems to designate the shipment as a sea container which already passed controls even though the ship had yet to arrive at the Rotterdam port. This would make it easier for the container to be offloaded without incident, as it appeared to have already passed controls. The suspect was able to approve shipments containing narcotics as a means of bypassing inspection at the port, prosecutors alleged. “This allowed others to retrieve this container of cocaine unhindered,” the Public Prosecution Service (OM) said in a statement on Friday.

The February shipment was not an isolated incident, with prosecutors stating that messages on Hassan O.’s encrypted phone showed that he frequently let sea containers through without inspection. “The container that was eventually intercepted appears to have been the tip of the iceberg,” the prosecutor said in its closing statement.

Six months after his arrest, prosecutors said they tied O.'s computer username to a December 2018 sea container full of bananas from Ecuador that was similarly marked as having passed controls before the ship carrying it had actually arrived. Dozens of boxes were quickly taken out of the container by an unknown company when the sea container was offloaded. Soon after, a sniffer dog was brought in to check the container. Though the dog indicated it picked up the scent of something suspicious, there were no drugs found.

His attorney at the time of that August hearing had argued it was possible that other customs agents abused O.'s login details to do the dirty work. His current attorney, Ruud van Boom, continued that defense, saying that had a camera been installed on the computers used by customs employees, it would show that his client was not involved. He called for an acquittal on all charges.

After 18 months, prosecutors and investigators still have not been able to tie O. to any illegally obtained assets or unusual sums of cash. “But it's hard to imagine doing something like that without getting money for it. Maybe the money was still to come or it was funneled," the prosecutor said in court, according to newspaper AD.

For his suspected role in the drug smuggling scheme, including forgery and official corruption, prosecutors demanded a guilty verdict and a sentence of 12 years behind bars. “The suspect has been appointed as a civil servant to protect our borders against these harmful external influences. It is more than reprehensible that he has undermined that security,” the prosecutor said in closing, according to a statement from the OM.

"In doing so, he harmed the integrity of his employer, colleagues and the Port of Rotterdam."

A verdict in the case is due on August 7.