Hundreds of people under police protection in extortion case of fruit importer
Between 300 to 400 people have been threatened in the past two years in an extortion case surrounding the fruit trading business, De Groot, in Hedel. The victims include employees, board members and their family. According De Telegraaf, never before have this many individuals required police protection in one case.
Trouble began in Fall of 2019 when a large batch of cocaine was found in a container of bananas. Board members of the company, Ben and William de Groot, said that shortly after they received a text message stating, “You will be fined 1.2 million euros. We know a lot about your family.” Whoever sent the message held the company responsible for the “loss of our trade”.
If the they did not pay within three days, a random employee of the company would be killed, the message said. “William initially though it was a bad joke”, the brothers’ lawyer Taco van der Dussen said. “But we soon realized the severity of the situation.”
A grievous mistake was made by Public Prosecutors when a full list of all De Groot’s employees ended up in the investigation files sent to lawyers of the suspects. “I immediately approached all the lawyers to delete the list”, Van der Dussen said. Yet, one suspect refused to return the list. The fear among employees, therefore, runs high.
In the past two years, at least 15 houses have been shot at, various fires set and explosives were left near employee’s homes.
Local police chief Aart Garssen said it was “terrible” that many innocent people have been victimized in the extortion. Protecting this large a number of people takes up a lot of capacity. “We deploy officers and experts from all across the country. And even then, we can’t guarantee everyone’s safety. That’s difficult to admit, but it’s true.”