The Dutch courts have issued sentences of between 18 months and 10 years for the seven defendants, convicted of attacking employees from a fruit importation company in Hedel, near Den Bosch. The fruit company employees unwittingly became mixed up in a cocaine smuggling operation.
The attacks began in 2019, shortly after workers at the De Groot Fresh Group found 400 kilos of cocaine hidden among a shipment of bananas and handed the drugs over to the police. Almost immediately afterwards, board members began receiving intimidating text messages, demanding payment of €2.5 million in bitcoin. A mistake by the public prosecution department resulted in a list with the names and addresses of De Groot workers being made public, after which the trouble started in earnest.
In total, 20 separate incidents have been linked to the initial attempt at blackmail, including arson, shootings and firebomb attacks on homes. Some 25 people have been arrested since the start of the investigation, mainly youngsters in their early 20s who had been recruited to carry out the attacks.
The attacks took place at night at people’s private homes. Two victims were lucky to escape with their lives after their farm was burnt to the ground. The entire Bommelerwaard area lived in fear for several years, and this was an additional reason for the severity of the sentences, the court said.