Ridouan Taghi

The Man For Whom the Underworld Shivers

After the killing of a billionaire kingpin, one man rises to the top of a new generation of ruthless drug lords running Europe’s cocaine empire. His name is Ridouan Taghi. Taghi’s rise, and his incredible fall, shows the power of cocaine to generate staggering wealth, and shocking violence.

Just a heads-up – This podcast contains material some listeners may find disturbing – there’s violence, strong language, and drugs right from the start.


A Dutch-Moroccan man known as Scarface – possibly the richest drug kingpin in all of Europe – takes a seat at a restaurant called the All-in-one Café.

It’s just after midnight…


…in a small, Spanish mountain village, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. 

It’s a nice place for a quiet meal. 

But Scarface is cautious. He’s not dining with friends

He’s here tonight at the invitation of a rival crime boss – another Dutch-Moroccan man – known as The Belly.

The men chat over drinks and snacks. Things seem to be going well. 

But as the dinner ends, someone gets up, shuffles around the table…


…and slaps Scarface

This quiet dinner is a trap

Scarface pushes away from the table and tries to run. 

Gunmen block his exit. 

Scarface drops to the floor, dead.

WOUTER – this killing, that was like the killing

This is Wouter Laumans, a crime reporter…


…with the Dutch newspaper Het Parool.

WOUTER – so this guy started out as somebody who nicked scooters in Amsterdam. And he made it to the stars. 

Scarface’s net worth by the time he’s killed is about a billion euros. 

He’d recently bought a shopping mall in Dubai – in cash

He’s part of a new generation running Europe’s cocaine trade.

WOUTER – the cocaine trade is the only trade I know where you can go from a guy on a scooter with a North Face jacket on dealing small amounts of cocaine…


…to a kingpin who owns millions and millions worth of real estate in Dubai.

Scarface was killed because his rivals wanted his business. 

Chief among them: Ridouan Taghi, another Dutch-Moroccan man who started out as a small-time hustler. 

Over the next decade, Taghi will grow to become a major drug kingpin…

Only to become the star defendant in the Netherlands’ largest criminal trial.

And soon enough…


…I’ll be face to face with the man himself

NICOLA – there’s been so many things that have happened over the past 10 years, really that seem so unbelievable. They seem like they’re out of a movie. It feels like that cannot be true, and yet it is. 

WOUTER – I can order a hit when I’m in Panama, I can order a hit in Amsterdam at this moment, because the guys are ready.

ANNA – Anyone, me included, I can traffic cocaine if I have…


…the money.

Europe is now the world’s biggest market for cocaine.

JORIS – I know guys who were street dealers, and three year later they are multimillionaires and living on the run in Dubai

Innocent people are getting killed. 

NADIA – they were shooting each other in broad daylight, in the streets of Amsterdam

Lawyers, Prime ministers, even princesses all need round-the-clock protection.


Special forces guard high security prisons from break-out attempts by helicopter

JAN – Everything we value as Europeans – the European idea of free trade, free travel of people, free travel of goods… it is abused

This is Europe, today…

Each year, billions of dollars of cocaine flood into the continent through the huge neighboring ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam.

It’s like Miami in the 80s — but with even more drugs. And much shittier weather. 

ALEX – the scale of it is, frankly, enormous…


…People have estimated it to be the size of the GDP of Croatia. it’s in the billions, and it’s not something that’s well known 

How did we get here?

I’m Mitchell Prothero, a reporter with Project Brazen. 

I’d been covering ISIS attacks in Europe, when I realised there was another threat, which might be even more dangerous than the War on Terror.



Because Europe now has its own war on drugs. 

And it threatens to turn countries like the Netherlands and Belgium, into mini narco states.

In this series, you’ll hear from confidential informants, former gang members,

and crime reporters with their lives on the line.

WOUTER – one of the magazine’s I worked for, they shot ground-to-air missiles through their windows

You’ll hear messages sent by the world’s most powerful drug bosses, giving unparalleled insight into their operations.

TAGHI: follow what I tell you…


…that man goes to sleep, and his whole fucking family. I told you 1 million times – it’s war

Welcome to the hidden world… of cocaine.

This is Gateway. 

Episode One… 

For Whom The Underworld Shivers

To understand how Europe got here, we’ll begin with the story of Ridouan Taghi.


Taghi’s rise — and his incredible fall — shows the power of cocaine to generate staggering wealth, AND shocking violence. 

For decades, the Italian mafia controlled most of the coke coming into Europe. the Cosa Nostra, the Ndrangheta, the Camorra…

But by the early 2000s, authorities in Italy cracked down on a crucial mafia controlled port… This created space for other groups around Europe to move shipments. 

And this


…is how Scarface made his fortune…

But by 2014, Scarface is dead. 

There’s room at the top.

And Ridouan Taghi has the ruthless ambition to get himself there.

ANNA – Cocaine trade is super inclusive

That’s Dr Anna Sergi, a professor at the University of Essex, who studies organised crime.

ANNA – I can traffic cocaine if I have the money, I can do it, I can enter the trade. However, what I might not be able…


…to do is move things out from place A to place B. That I need to figure out.

One group has already mastered getting drugs across borders in Europe… they’ve been doing it for decades.

NADIA – it started out with Moroccans having this international networks.

This is Dr Nadia Bouras, an expert in the history of the Moroccan diaspora.

NADIA – you could have a network in the whole of Europe and even other parts…


…of the world with people from your region, perhaps even the same family. You could make use of that network in not only producing, but also selling drugs in Europe.

Nadia’s describing the foundation of the loosely formed Moroccan Mafia, one of the groups starting to take the place of the Italians.

NADIA – it’s also a business in which when you start young, you can grow in that business, you can become one of the leaders. 

And that’s…


…exactly what Ridouan Taghi does.

Taghi’s story begins in the 1980s, when as a little kid, he moves from Morocco to the Netherlands. 

His family is one of tens of thousands drawn to Europe by the prospect of a better life. 

NADIA – the major reason for Moroccans to come to the Netherlands was, you know, for work purposes…


…to improve their economic future.

Taghi’s father takes a job in the construction industry. The family settles in a town without many other Moroccans. 

Taghi becomes fluent in Dutch, but fitting into Dutch society is a different challenge.

NADIA – young Moroccan men, they experience marginalization.

They experience racism and discrimination and exclusion. 

As a teenager, Taghi drops out of school, and starts selling hashish. 

NADIA – life…


…is tough, I mean if you don’t have a high school diploma, you are out. I mean, nobody’s going to hire you. So, this criminal business becomes an alternative path in their lives.

And it’s that path that Taghi takes. 

WOUTER – Ridouan Taghi started out as your average drug guy. 

This is Wouter Laumans, the Dutch crime reporter.

WOUTER – He was in like, they call it a youth gang. And he was one of the guys who sold small amounts of…


…hashish in the neighborhood, like small nickel and dime bags.

Taghi starts small, but he’s got big ambitions.

NADIA – he’s a businessman, he’s an entrepreneur who saw opportunity within organized crime.

WOUTER – the story goes that he had a relative who had a well-established smuggling line in from Morocco.

When he’s 21, Taghi deregisters as a Dutch citizen, and moves back to Morocco. 

He wants to run his European business from there…



I’ve seen a picture of Taghi from this time, in the late 1990s. 

He’s smiling on a beach. 

The sea is rolling in behind him

He’s got short dark hair, and a smug expression on his face. 

Life is good.

Taghi and his family have done well in the hash business. 

He buys a luxurious white villa, with a view of the Rif mountains, home to the world’s largest hashish plantations.


Taghi runs hashish across the Strait of Gibraltar. 

One method? He crashes speedboats full of drugs directly into the beaches of southern Spain. Often in front of tourists. 

The guy does not give a fuck. 

And this brutal directness fuels his rise.

And then, in 2016, a peace deal in Colombia blows the supply of cocaine wide open.


Suddenly, there’s more product available than ever before. 

BBC: “After nearly 50 years of conflict the Colombian government and the leftwing guerilla group FARC have agreed a peace deal. More than 260,000…”

Most of the world’s cocaine is produced in Colombia’s dense jungle. 

During the country’s civil war, leftists like the FARC, and rightwing paramilitaries like the AUC had near complete control over the trade. 

When the war ends, the government begins to break up the cocaine…


…monopoly. Most of the cartel bosses end up in prison.

Now, anyone savvy and ruthless enough can source their own cocaine from Colombia, directly.


Taghi pivots from hashish to cocaine, and starts cutting deals directly with the Colombians himself.

The amount of cash becomes astronomical

WOUTER – the volume of money that they could make with cocaine was tenfold of what they could make with hashish. 


This is Wouter Laumans.

WOUTER – with the money came the violence. Because, when there’s a dispute of, like, 10 kilograms of hashish, you can basically get a loan from a bank and solve the problem. With cocaine, you can’t do that anymore. it’s so much money. 

WOUTER – If you steal from me, I can’t go to police and say, Hey, hey, this guy stole 50 kilograms of cocaine. No, I break your spine. And then everybody knows that if you steal this guy’s stuff…


…your spine will be broken. 

More… after the break.


It’s 2017. 

An unusual wedding procession clogs the narrow streets of Antwerp, Belgium. 

A long line of ultra high end sports cars


…snakes through the city.

Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys and Maseratis. 

It’s a swaggering display of pure automotive bling.

People film it on their phones.

Antwerp’s got one of the world’s largest ports. 

It’s also a prime destination for all the newly available cocaine coming in from Colombia…

This wedding procession of fancy cars…


…is a noisy symbol of the change:

New money is flooding Antwerp’s streets. 

Belgian police notice the signs – Small-time drug dealers now have really nice watches. Their clothes, jewellery and cars have become ostentatious.

Meanwhile, just over the border in the Netherlands, another set of cars gets the attention of police. 

There’s been a series of murders.

They all have one thing in common. 

The killers escape…


…in a stolen car, and then set it on fire.

WOUTER –  there’s like a modus operandi in how these killings get done, they use fast stolen cars, AK47s. What the Dutch police are doing, they are following the cars. So not follow the money, not follow the drugs, not follow the guns. Follow the cars.

Police track some of the vehicles, one of which leads them to a storage unit. 

Inside they discover enough weapons…


for a small army:  

26 automatic rifles, 61 small arms, 9 hand grenades. 

And this is in a country with just 1 gun for every 50 people.

It’s the biggest weapons seizure in Dutch history.

But the police don’t realise, they’re on the trail of one of the country’s most dangerous men.

So far…


…Taghi has climbed his way to the top without drawing much police attention. 

And that’s by design.

If there’s one thing Taghi can’t tolerate, it’s his name being spoken anywhere outside his operation. 

Criminals know this – 

they make the sign of a T with their hands, 

instead of speaking his name.

The strategy of staying anonymous has worked… 

But soon, his thirst for vengeance brings Taghi into the limelight.

One of Taghi’s friends was brutally kidnapped six years earlier…


…held captive with an iron chain around his ankle…

for four months.

The kidnapper is a gangster named Ebrahim Buzhu, aka The Butcher.

Recently, the Butcher has started suspecting he’s being followed. 

He thinks he recognizes the men tracking him. 

They work for Ridouan Taghi. 

The Butcher is spooked.

He takes refuge in the Belgian capital, Brussels. 


While he’s away, he lets a friend borrow his car. 

But the friend soon calls with worrying news.

The police have told the friend the car is being tracked, but not by them

The Butcher knows Ridouan Taghi is moving in for the kill.

The Butcher has two choices – do nothing and die, or seek protection from the police.


He decides… to go to the cops.

The police show him photographs of criminals in the Dutch underworld.

Looking through the photos…. what alarms the Butcher is the face he doesn’t see

He tells the cops they’re missing someone – and his name? Ridouan Taghi.

The man behind everything that’s been happening: 

The recent wave of killings 

The conspicuous new wealth on the streets 

The biggest weapons seizure in Dutch history 

And the threat…


 …to The Butcher’s life.

It becomes clear to The Butcher that these detectives have never heard Taghi’s name. 

They don’t even know how to spell it.

WOUTER – that’s like the start of Taghi being put in the limelight- there’s this guy called Ridouan Taghi. He’s very dangerous. He’s very deadly. He’s the guy for whom the underworld shivers.

The Butcher leaves the police station, and vanishes. 


Taghi soon figures out that the Butcher has given his name to the police. 

But he can’t find the Butcher – so he can’t kill him.

Instead, Taghi focuses on another man… Samir. 

They used to be in a youth gang together.

And word is he’s ALSO been talking to the police about Taghi.

It’s April, 2016. 

A bright Sunday morning in the small Dutch town of IJsselstein.

A gunman named Bowy sits…


…in his car, dressed in black, 

watching the front door of a brick apartment building. 

What happens next is described in a series of phone messages between Bowy and Taghi. 

We know exactly what’s been said because the police hack their phones. 

But more on that later…

We’ve had actors read these texts in English.

Taghi messages Bowy

TAGHI – If he sleeps, you’ll be well rewarded

It doesn’t leave much ambiguity.


The front door of the building swings open. It’s Samir.

As Bowy raises the gun, he freezes… 

Samir’s 7-year-old daughter is right beside him.

This was not part of Bowy’s murder plan. 

Bowy replies to his boss. 

BOWY VO: the timing is bad. What do I do?

Taghi tells him quit the ‘shit talk’ and run into the house 

and shoot everyone, quote – “innocent and guilty.”


While Taghi and Bowy are texting, Samir gets into his Volkswagen.

His daughter is in the passenger seat. 

Bowy runs forward firing bullets through the window, into Samir’s torso.

Neighbours see Samir’s daughter running home, screaming.

Moments later, Bowy returns to the getaway car.

But the ignition won’t…



He dumps his gun in the car, and runs into a nearby playground. 

Taghi wants an update:

TAGHI VO: I want to know exactly what happened, step by step

Gasping for breath, Bowy fills him in. Taghi responds:

TAGHI VO: “Be proud of yourself, brother. He sleeps. Whoop Whoop!”

Then, Taghi assigns two new targets. 

TAGHI VO: ‘I’m on the hunt. I’m already drunk, little brother. I need blood, and nothing else.’


Taghi’s violence has begun to spill beyond the underworld.

But now, the cops have his name. 

And thanks to the phone hacks… they can see what’s happening within the gangs.

Here’s Jan Op Gen Oorth, from Europol 

JAN – what those encrypted operations showed is really the global scale of organized crime… it felt like we were in a dark room and we knew somehow the bed must be…


…there and the kitchen is there, and then we switched on the light, and we’ve seen every detail in the room.

Next, on Gateway… 

BRS: A lot of people got hurt, like young kids, spouses, whatever

WOUTER: we have had a severed head put in front of a shisha lounge 

we’ve seen, public executions in the streets of Amsterdam, Rotterdam.

WOUTER – that’s the stuff you see in Honduras or Mexico but you don’t see that in the Netherlands. 


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GATEWAY is a production of Project Brazen in partnership with PRX.


It’s reported and hosted by me – Mitchell Prothero.

Additional reporting and production by Dontxupinazo Productions

Editing and fact-checking by Georgia Gee.

Executive producers are Bradley Hope, Tom Wright and Nicholas Brennan.

Special thanks to Sarah Hurtes and the whole team at Project Brazen.


What stories from the hidden world of cocaine should we tell next? Do you have a story you’d like to share?

Let us know at gateway@projectbrazen.com