“He’s the guy for who the underworld shivers,” Dutch journalist Wouter Laumans tells Gateway in Episode 1. “If you cross him, he is ruthless.”
Laumans is talking about Ridouan Taghi, one of Europe’s biggest drug traffickers, and the central figure in our new podcast series GATEWAY: Cocaine, Murder, & Dirty Money in Europe . The podcast takes us from the Netherlands, to Morocco, to Dubai, on the hunt for Taghi and the stream of bodies he leaves behind.
“The cocaine trade is the only trade I know where you can go from a guy on a scooter with a North face jacket dealing small amounts of cocaine, to a kingpin who owns millions and millions worth of real estate in Dubai,” said Laumans.
By the end of the series, we end up face-to-face with Taghi in an underground bunker, as he stands trial for his litany of crimes.
But for a long time, no-one knew who Taghi was. Photos of him, in bed and on the beach, often show him pouting without a care in the world. So how did he rise up to become one of the world’s most notorious drug lords?
Taghi started out as a small-time hustler, “your average drug guy,” according to Laumans. In the 1980s, as a little kid, he moved from Morocco to the Netherlands. He dropped out of school as a teenager, joined a youth gang — unironically called the Bad Boys — and started selling hashish.
One of his relatives used to smuggle hashish from Morocco to Europe and Taghi followed in his family’s footsteps. At twenty-one, he deregistered as a Dutch citizen and moved back to Morocco to start running a business. The drug money started to pay off. So he aimed higher, into the world of cocaine.
Each year, billions of euros of cocaine flood into the continent through the huge neighboring ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. Taghi became one of the main facilitators — and he did not shy away from violence to get the job done.
His army stands by. “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,” Lauman explains.
The violence spins out of control.
“They were shooting each other in broad daylight, in the streets of Amsterdam,” Dr Nadia Bouras, expert in Moroccan migration, said.
And while Taghi managed to keep a low profile for a while — he seemed to consistently vanish without a trace — eventually, there is nowhere else to hide.
In Gateway we hear from confidential informants, former gang members, and crime reporters with their lives on the line — as well as into the minds of Taghi and the druglords themselves.
Listen to Gateway for more on Taghi…