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Fewer attacks, but more kidnappings in Antwerp’s drug environment

Federal Police

The Antwerp federal police made more arrests and seized more criminal money in 2023 than ever before.

In 2023, the Antwerp Federal Judicial Police (FGP) made 762 arrests. This was said by Yve Driesen, the judicial director of the FGP Antwerp, when presenting the annual report. For comparison: in 2021 – the year of the Sky ECC hack – the police made 600 arrests. Since then there have only been more. These high figures are still due to files that were started thanks to Sky ECC. Even more impressive are the figures for seizures in 2023. FGP Antwerp seized 90 million euros in criminal money, which amounts to 43% of the total seizures throughout Belgium. This is more than a doubling compared to last year. In addition to Sky ECC, an investigation into the Antwerp diamond company Grib, which traded with Russia, is also the basis for that record amount.

In terms of violence, a change is gradually noticeable within the Antwerp drug environment, which seems to have started after the death of 11-year-old Firdaous. The girl died in an attack in Merksem in early 2023. According to the police, there is a shift from very visible attacks on public domain to violence ‘behind the scenes’, such as taking other drug criminals hostage. While the Antwerp FGP had 94 files on drug-related violence in 2022, this was still 82 in 2023.

“Overall, we see a downward trend over the course of the year,” says Yve Driesen. “A relatively new phenomenon is emerging: kidnappings and hostage-taking within the environment. Last year (2023, ed.) there were about ten, and that trend continues this year.” The police hypothesis is that criminal organizations are less likely to want to attract the attention of the police, the judiciary and the public. “These kidnappings often only come to light when the victim’s family is contacted to transfer ransom money,” says Driesen. He suspects that there is also a large dark number involved in such cases.

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