Project Brazen‘s Mitchell Prothero reveals Europe’s cocaine crisis through the stories of cartel thugs, cops, journalists, and victims caught in the middle.
What We Discuss with Mitchell Prothero:
- Why European law enforcement is ill-prepared to deal with the influx of crime and violence associated with a cocaine trade that has grown to rival that of the US.
- How European ports that have been historically instrumental in the development of international trade have become thriving modern hubs for drug trafficking.
- What makes cocaine the “perfect” drug for illicit entrepreneurs who want to make a lot of money on their own terms?
- Why loose cannon drug trafficker and murderer Ridouan Taghi makes fellow criminals as nervous as he makes journalists, agents of law enforcement, and European society.
- What needs to change in order for the European cocaine trade to decelerate?
- And much more…
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Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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This Episode Is Sponsored By:
- Airbnb: Find out how much your space is worth at airbnb.com/host
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Miss our conversation about the spooky nature of perception with world-renowned neuroscientist Beau Lotto? Catch up with episode 177: Beau Lotto | Why You See Differently When You Deviate here!
Thanks, Mitchell Prothero!
If you enjoyed this session with Mitchell Prothero, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Cocaine, Murder, & Dirty Money in Europe | Gateway
- Project Brazen
- Mitchell Prothero | Twitter
- Mitchell Prothero | Vice
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan | Wikipedia
- Why Albania Is an Exciting Food Destination | Travel + Leisure
- November 2015 Paris Attacks | Wikipedia
- Record Cocaine, Raging Violence: Antwerp’s Year-in-Review| Gateway
- How Belgium Became Europe’s Port of Call for Cocaine | The Parliament
- When Europe Took the Cocaine Crown from the US | Gateway
- How to Sneak Metric Tons of Cocaine Into Europe: The Art of “Transshipments” | Gateway
- Drug Lords of Dubai | Gateway
- Ridouan Taghi | Wikipedia
- For Whom the Underworld Shivers | Gateway
- The Daylight Murder Sowing Fear in Dutch Society | Gateway
- Ján Kuciak | Wikipedia (Note: from Slovakia, not Slovenia — thanks to listener Attila for pointing out our error!)
860: Mitchell Prothero | Cocaine, Murder, and Dirty Money in Europe
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[00:00:21] Mitchell Prothero: What are the estimates of what's smuggled? Because honestly, nobody can tell you since the wall came down, remember there's like a million new middle-class people every year in Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, Romania, Ukraine, who can afford 100 euros on a weekend. So this is where the market keeps expanding each year. The more you build out a middle class and an upper middle class throughout the rest of Eastern Europe, the market keeps getting bigger.
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[00:02:43] Today, I'm talking with journalist Mitchell Prothero. Turns out the cocaine market in Europe is now bigger than that of the United States. I had no idea if you told me it was the same size as Florida. Maybe I would've believed you, but the whole US, quite unbelievable and it's growing. We'll talk about the rise of cocaine in Europe and the absolutely wild mafia criminal syndicates that engage in cocaine smuggling and distribution in Europe. Frankly, Europe is just not ready for the level of violence and crime, and this problem is only going to get worse. So let's take a look inside cocaine's gateway to Europe. Here we go.
[00:03:23] You're in Albania, right?
[00:03:24] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah, I'm in Tirana.
[00:03:25] Jordan Harbinger: So maybe that's a good place to start seeing as you're sitting there now. Why Tirana? Why are you in Albania? You know, we're thinking cocaine goes into the port event where, why are you all the way over in the Balkans?
[00:03:37] Mitchell Prothero: Well, I mean, I just spent a year living in Antwerp—
[00:03:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:40] Mitchell Prothero: —and Amsterdam for the project. There's been a couple of different reasons. One had to do with the Turkish elections, which Erdogan won, which means I can't live in Turkey.
[00:03:50] Jordan Harbinger: Go into that a little bit because for people who don't know, Erdogan is, he's a president/dictator of Turkey. But why would that affect your job-covering cocaine trade in Europe?
[00:03:59] Mitchell Prothero: Oh, well, it's not necessarily my job-covering cocaine trade. Keep in mind this is a relatively new phenomenon. So I had been a Middle East correspondent for 15 years, covered ISIS. You know, I covered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, 9/11, stuff like that. So I have a long history in the Middle East and some of the intelligence services. They got tired of my bullsh*t after a few years. Because it was like a decade and a half of me covering stuff that was pretty uncomfortable. One of the reasons why I ended up in Albania was I cover the Balkans a lot in my job as a senior reporter for Vice. And I'd spent a lot of time in Bosnia, I'd spent a lot of time in Serbia. I'd worked in Kosovo and things like that. So I knew the Albanians, but I'd never spent any time in Tirana. And there was a bunch of different centric circles. It sort of overlapped, like understanding the Balkans, aspects of the Albanian Mafia are deeply into the cocaine trade in certain parts of the world. And also it's really beautiful and really cheap and it's just, it's a lovely place. And so before I get accused of being on the tourist board, if you want a beautiful beach in Europe that's unspoiled and undeveloped, it'll cost you half of anything with amazing Italian food, Albania. It's really good.
[00:05:19] Jordan Harbinger: I will actually join you in saying that Albania was one of the coolest, most interesting places that I went to in Europe, in part because it's a little screwed up, man. I mean, you know, I was there a while ago. It's got edge that is not present in many other places, and when you're 20-something or you're a war correspondent, it's pretty damn cool.
[00:05:40] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah.
[00:05:41] Jordan Harbinger: Not to mention, like you said, it's very cheap compared to a lot of other places, and the food is bomb. So what can I say?
[00:05:46] Mitchell Prothero: And the people are cool, like over the last 20 years I've been war correspondent, foreign correspondent, whatever. Now it's more what I call drugs and thugs. I cover intelligence and cartels and law enforcement. But you know, I lived in Lebanon for 10 or 11 years. I lived in Iraq, off and on for two or three. If you can really enjoy some of these places as screwed up as they can kind of feel, you also realize just how lovely everybody is.
[00:06:12] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:06:12] Mitchell Prothero: And getting to know the Albanians has been really interesting, even though I've barely started. You know, they're unique European people. They really don't have a root. I've spent a lot of time in Bosnia and Serbia and they're southern Slavs. They've got this kind of connection, even if they're all different on some level. They've got a shared language, a bit of a shared culture and a shared history and all this stuff. Whereas the Albanians have pretty much been sitting here since you know the Iliad. They've got like the last proto-Aurelian language with no other root in any other Caucasian and European language. So it's weird stuff like that. So one of the reasons why I decided to come here was even if I only spent about a year, you know, they pop up a lot in my work. They're really kind of unique, closed off, even though in the middle of Europe country that people really don't understand. So I thought I might be able to understand a little bit if I spent some time here. The food is great and I can sort out some of my immigration issues across the rest of Europe while I'm here.
[00:07:13] Jordan Harbinger: Uh, yeah, well, you have plenty of time, I suppose. I know you used to cover ISIS and Islamic terror, but then thought the cocaine trade was actually a bigger threat to Europe. Is that accurate?
[00:07:24] Mitchell Prothero: Yes and no. I mean, I started off in the war on terror very early on. Like I covered September 11th from Washington DC. And then, I immediately got sent to federal court to start covering the trials of the first people, John Walker Lindh.
[00:07:37] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:07:38] Mitchell Prothero: Zacarias Moussaoui and stuff like that. And then, within a year or so, I was sent to the Middle East to start covering the wars. And that obviously you don't have a lot of focus for anything else, like you're obsessed with the Iraq.
[00:07:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:07:51] Mitchell Prothero: Like if you're a Baghdad Bureau Chief, covering in 2003 or 2004, then 10 years later in 2013, 2014, you know, you don't have a really big picture view of anything. You're just trying to deal with the country that's in front of you and the situation that's in front of you. But between these moments, I've been living in Lebanon and I've been covering Hezbollah, which was really interesting, but was a double phenomenon. Like there's Hezbollah, which is in South Lebanon, which faces the Israelis, and then they've got this like fundraising intelligence operation that goes worldwide. So when I started paying attention to that, I realized that there was a bunch of overlaps with like criminal activity. Diamonds, Hezbollah's, obviously, they do a lot of what we call commodity laundering, which is you take one thing somewhere. And then, you sell it and it's really hard to trace the money.
[00:08:43] Jordan Harbinger: I see. I was going to say that sounds like capitalism. Oh, wait, okay. There's another element here.
[00:08:47] Mitchell Prothero: No, but it's like the purest form of capitalism, which is like frozen chickens in the Congo are money if you're selling them in a supermarket and you can bet on these things and make lots of money. I learned a lot about that type of thing. And then, over time, it started creeping a little bit more and more into organized crime. But once 2015, 2016 hit, I was the bureau chief in Iraq covering ISIS, and I was getting burned out. I'd been doing it for almost 15 years. At that point, Buzzfeed offered me an opportunity to cover basically the jihadi that were coming to Europe. So at that time, I started covering ISIS attacks all over Europe.
[00:09:25] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:25] Mitchell Prothero: Or even attacks that turned out not to be ISIS, you know, and just evaluating like things that were going on Bataclan, you know, a bunch of things like that.
[00:09:34] Jordan Harbinger: That's the theater in France that got attacked.
[00:09:36] Mitchell Prothero: Right. That was like the night where in November 2015, there was like a widespread attack across Paris. They hit a bunch of cafes outside of football stadium. And this heavy metal concert that was going on inside a theater, like 150 people died.
[00:09:52] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:53] Mitchell Prothero: And at that stage, it was clear that there had been cells that were working in Europe, like this wasn't a one-off guy. Like, these things happen from time to time. A crazy guy or a radicalized guy might run out and shoot somebody or stab somebody. But this was clearly like an organized effort.
[00:10:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:08] Mitchell Prothero: So Buzzfeed basically asked me to go figure it out. And in that I started running into organized crime across Europe because there's such a crazy overlap. And at one point I got told that I was chasing a handful of Moroccans, in this case, they were mostly Moroccans, a few of them were Algerians who had grown up in Europe. And that I was chasing a handful of these guys. And cops kept joking with me that like, we'll wrap these guys up, but you should understand who's running the ports—
[00:10:37] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:10:37] Mitchell Prothero: —in Rotterdam and Antwerp. Do you notice that like no kids are run off and join ISIS from Rotterdam? You know, and then you check and you're like, actually the numbers are really low. Yeah. Why is that? Brussels is sending like, you know, a hundred guys from one neighborhood. Antwerp sent like six, Rotterdam sent maybe two. So you start asking why that is, and then you realize that there's these networks that have been running the ports that are bringing in cocaine. And that was one of the first times that it really struck me on the overlap, at least in Europe on the connection between these same communities. Because, again, it's not to condemn like any one immigrant community in Europe or the United States. This is just how it is. These are the communities that, let's say, have working-class jobs by the ports.
[00:11:25] Jordan Harbinger: So you mentioned that there was a neighborhood that sent a hundred guys to ISIS, or there was another neighborhood in Rotterdam that sent like six. That was a little unclear. So you mean these neighborhoods with a lot of extremists or guys that would fall into a bad subculture or fall into crime, they run off to ISIS in these one neighborhoods, but in the other one they don't because they go somewhere else, right? Not because they're so good at keeping their kids home and safe and going to university. They fall into organized crime instead of going to ISIS. Is that what you're implying?
[00:11:54] Mitchell Prothero: I should have been a little bit more clear about this. So like to back it up and just tell a little story is the guys that did Bataclan and that cell from ISIS had been like small-time hashish and cocaine dealers in a neighborhood of Brussels called Molenbeek. I ended up living in Brussels for two years. I know it well. It's a perfectly nice like middle-class, working-class neighborhood. It's even got like brew pubs now and gay bars and stuff like that. But it had been like a bit of an immigrant neighborhood for the Moroccan guest workers that had come to Belgium. And all of those guys, without exception, maybe one or two I can think of, didn't have a petty crime background, but almost everybody else had a history of like selling hash, but it was like small time stuff. The worst two were the brothers from the bombings in Brussel. The two brothers that did it, they had been pretty wild before they became jihadis. Like they were famous for robbing a Western Union with a Kalashnikov like in the middle of Brussels.
[00:12:54] Jordan Harbinger: Seems like overkill, but okay.
[00:12:56] Mitchell Prothero: Compared to America, man. It's overkill for Brussels. That's why the guy is famous for it. They were considered a little bit of like small-time thugs. But then, when I was talking to guys and there were people that joined ISIS from let's say, the same community 50 miles north in Antwerp, in the port town. But it was a smaller group and it was even smaller in Rotterdam, which has a port and even smaller in Amsterdam. And one of the things that people had told me was that, basically, the guys that are sort of on the edge because most people aren't going to join ISIS in the Moroccan community. Most people aren't going to become cartel guys, but through selection of the Yahoos, that might—
[00:13:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:13:38] Mitchell Prothero: —the Brussels guys were really small time and were sort of eking out in existence, and so they were easier to recruit. Whereas the guys in Antwerp, in Rotterdam, in Amsterdam, they were making a few thousand euros a month being drug dealers or being cartel guys. They were harder to recruit. They had a sense of self-esteem, even if it's misplaced. And so as a result, that community, they did send, people, don't at me with like the exceptions, but when you look at the numbers, 90 guys from within a square kilometer in Molenbeek went, whereas, you know, maybe 12 went from Antwerp.
[00:14:15] Jordan Harbinger: Got it. Okay.
[00:14:16] Mitchell Prothero: That was the thing that flagged the cocaine industry to me at that time. And that was like 2015, 2016. And so, at that point, it's still my job to cover jihadi. I'm covering international terrorism. I'm dealing now with, at that time, with an increased Putin situation across Europe, covering intelligence and stuff like that. But in the back of my mind, I kept going like, how out of control is the cocaine trade in Antwerp and Rotterdam? Because cops were warning, we're going to round up the jihadis. You know, it'll take a year. There might be a few bombs like they're realistic guys, but we're going to get them because we're talking to a hundred assh*les.
[00:14:54] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:55] Mitchell Prothero: But like the cocaine thing, they've got like an endless supply of 15-year-olds to raid containers for a hundred bucks each, who will face juvenile charges. They're making millions.
[00:15:06] Jordan Harbinger: You said raid containers?
[00:15:08] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah. When a container comes into Antwerp or Rotterdam, one of the ways to get your cocaine out of a container, particularly in Rotterdam, is you send a bunch of 15-year-old kids over the fence that break into it, rip the cocaine out, and jump back over the fence because it's only 150 euro fine for trespassing.
[00:15:26] Jordan Harbinger: So they're telling a bunch of teenage kids, "Hey, that red container over there stacked the third one up has a bunch of cocaine in it."
[00:15:32] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah. You and two of your friends, what we need you to do is like, here's 150 Euros for each, you. Here's an extra 100 euros for the fine if you do get caught.
[00:15:42] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:15:43] Mitchell Prothero: If you don't get caught, you get to keep it. Here's the money for the fine if you do get caught, don't call us.
[00:15:48] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah.
[00:15:49] Mitchell Prothero: You got caught.
[00:15:50] Jordan Harbinger: That's a good point.
[00:15:51] Mitchell Prothero: And you're going to go over the fence here. You're going to open container 314. You're going to pull the bags with whatever marking on them are in there. And then, you're going to run back over and jump over the fence and throw them in the back of this van.
[00:16:03] Jordan Harbinger: That is way less sophisticated than I expected. I thought. Okay. They come in in refrigerators, they go to the factory and there's guys there that do that.
[00:16:10] Mitchell Prothero: In Dutch, they call it the cocaine milieu.
[00:16:13] Jordan Harbinger: Cute.
[00:16:14] Mitchell Prothero: So there's other ways, like a notorious way is what we call the hotel containers, which is they fill up a container full of cocaine in Ecuador or whatever and set it up and send it. And in a container next to it are three dudes with a chemical toilet, a bunch of power chargers, some iPads, and a bag of food for the week across the Atlantic in a container right next to it. And then when they land to get dropped off in Antwerp or Rotterdam, they break out of their container. Open the container next to them, take the drugs, jump over. And run off into a van and get driven away.
[00:16:48] Jordan Harbinger: That just sounds miserable and very dangerous.
[00:16:52] Mitchell Prothero: 10 grand.
[00:16:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Well, not for me, but yeah, for somebody who makes that in a year and a half or two years. Yeah.
[00:16:58] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah. I mean, you're talking average salaries in the EU or like 1,500 to 2,000 euros a month. You can get six-month salary for a week of work.
[00:17:07] Jordan Harbinger: I thought these were illegal immigrants coming from overseas into the EU. Okay, so these are EU citizens.
[00:17:13] Mitchell Prothero: It's a mix. It's often like Serbs and Albanians who are from Europe, but might not be Schengen.
[00:17:18] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:18] Mitchell Prothero: It's a mix of guys. They're not leaving like Colombian guys standing outside defense with no idea what's going on when they've got the drugs.
[00:17:26] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Okay.
[00:17:26] Mitchell Prothero: It's somebody who's got to be able to blend in on the European side so they don't notice.
[00:17:31] Jordan Harbinger: Schengen, for people who don't know, you're referring to a visa arrangement of countries that people think of when they think of Europe, like Austria, Germany, all these countries. So when you say they could be Serbian, but not Schengen, technically still in Europe, like half of Turkey and Serbia and Albania, but not what you think of when you think European people eating a baguette at a cafe on a street in Paris?
[00:17:51] Mitchell Prothero: No, but I mean, you have to understand these, everybody's got huge immigrant communities or a mix-up.
[00:17:57] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:59] Mitchell Prothero: So the French guy eating a baguette in a cafe in Paris, he very well might be Algerian, you know? Like this is where it gets really interesting because the Holland and Belgium, particularly the ports that I focused on this season, they're really very, very diverse communities in a positive way. This is a place where a lot of Bosnians and Croatians and Serbs got refugee status in the '90s. Albanians, Kosovars, Moroccan guest workers, guys from Afro-Caribbean, colonies of the Dutch. And these are a mix-up that really made Amsterdam until, let's say, using Amsterdam as an example, one of the best multicultural cities on earth. I mean, like, I wouldn't say it's perfectly integrated, but it's better integrated than most places in a lot of ways. But these are the communities because, again, there's a situation in which you can corrupt an 18-year-old over a couple of grand.
[00:18:57] Jordan Harbinger: So you talk to cocaine traffickers every day? Is that fair?
[00:19:01] Mitchell Prothero: No, not every day.
[00:19:02] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:19:02] Mitchell Prothero: Talk to terrorists every day.
[00:19:04] Jordan Harbinger: You talk to terrorists every day. Wow. Okay. Worse.
[00:19:06] Mitchell Prothero: Terrorists really have like a message they kind of want to get out and manipulate.
[00:19:10] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:19:10] Mitchell Prothero: The one thing I learned about cocaine traffickers is they really don't care. It's just about the money.
[00:19:15] Jordan Harbinger: That makes sense.
[00:19:16] Mitchell Prothero: They don't have anything to sell me.
[00:19:18] Jordan Harbinger: Besides cocaine.
[00:19:20] Mitchell Prothero: That's what makes sourcing really hard is that, at least for Osama bin Laden, he needed to get his message out.
[00:19:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:19:28] Mitchell Prothero: Whereas one of my guys that I track, let's say, who lives in Dubai, he really doesn't want his message out. He'd prefer if nobody ever heard who he was.
[00:19:38] Jordan Harbinger: This is what I was going to ask is terrorists can't wait to get on a microphone with a journalist. I mean, they'll line up for that. I mean, depending on what they've done recently, the spokesman can't wait anyway. Maybe not the bomber himself, but a cocaine dealer, it's like one of the 10 commandments of drug dealing is maybe don't just blab about it to everybody. Besides, don't get high on your own supply, don't talk to the media, and brag about how much you're selling is probably one of the chief rules to longevity in the drug game. So how does that happen? How do you get in touch with these guys?
[00:20:10] Mitchell Prothero: It's not easy because, I mean, one of the things you have to understand is these guys are bottom line professionals.
[00:20:16] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:20:16] Mitchell Prothero: They're really good at what they do. And I consistently joke, and it's not a joke, but like two or three of the people that I've tracked, one is Ridouan Taghi, who's pretty famous in this, from the focus of the podcast that I did for Gateway.
[00:20:30] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. We'll talk about him in a minute.
[00:20:32] Mitchell Prothero: I had a couple of other guys who are still out there. People really don't know their names. They've got some indictments here or there, and they're on the run and they've kept a much, much lower profile than, let's say, Taghi or the Kinahans or some of these other guys have. And you know, at the end of the day, they don't really have a motivation to really talk because it's a basic business arrangement. It's also why, like in a lot of ways, people are always like, aren't you worried about your safety?
[00:21:01] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:21:01] Mitchell Prothero: And yes, like Holland had a couple of situations in which with Taghi, people were killed. It was fairly personal on some level. But in general, if you're dealing with a rational cocaine cartel, at least for a guy like me, I'm not a local journalist in Medellin or Mexico or something like that. Those guys are under a much different threat. It's not worth it. It's a terrible business decision. And this was one of the things that we found about Taghi was that his reputation in the underworld was very good in the sense that he was considered incredibly diligent and honest. But then, his reputation was very bad because he was a psycho who'd shoot bloggers.
[00:21:41] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:21:41] Mitchell Prothero: And shooting bloggers is not like, you know, this is insane to a dude from the Italian-Calabrian Mafia who probably run things for the most part, or you even the Serbian Mafia, Albania Mafia, all these different guys, like this is nuts to them. Because at the end of the day, they're working logistics. They're the type of people that like, other than the sociopathic murder part to enforce certain rules, their job is not that much different than Amazon. They could have dinner with Jeff Bezos and talk logistics on supply-demand type stuff, on-time delivery, the downside to keeping your supply in a warehouse and the costs and the opportunity, and all this stuff.
[00:22:24] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:22:25] Mitchell Prothero: And all these different ways that you bring a net together in order to maximize profit and minimize risks through logistics and planning. They would much rather have that conversation with a Bezos-like figure than they would rather have a conversation about murdering people. Murdering people is like you hire a guy and you go have murdered. Now, it's only really got to benefit you to do that. So that's one of the reasons why like, I mean, there's certain people in Holland that I would say their coverage could get them into some trouble and they need to be careful. But in general, I am not worth the hassle. And that's one of the things that we learned.
[00:23:00] Jordan Harbinger: That's funny.
[00:23:00] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah. These guys are making so much money. They would really be rather talking to executives who work with like shipping containers and on-time delivery.
[00:23:10] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:11] Mitchell Prothero: That's their thing.
[00:23:12] Jordan Harbinger: That's their thing. Right, it's logistics. They're looking at it like a business. And the murder part is of unfortunate, inconvenient, dirty side of the business that they'd probably rather not have to deal with. So the last thing they're doing is looking to kill people for sporting reasons or because they're angry about something? Is that what you're telling me?
[00:23:28] Mitchell Prothero: They do have to do it because they can't go to the cops and they can't go to court.
[00:23:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's like an enforcement thing as opposed to a, let me screw around because I'm bored today, kind of thing.
[00:23:38] Mitchell Prothero: Well, the weird thing is yes, except that we did learn that they do seem to really enjoy it, which was freaky. When you start listening to the Sky ECC and EncroChat hacks and stuff like that, you do realize these dudes are sociopaths.
[00:23:52] Jordan Harbinger: These are encrypted phones that have been cracked.
[00:23:55] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah, that were cracked and they were like murdering each other for business reasons, but then they were also like sending each other photos of it.
[00:24:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. There's a couple of podcasters I'd take out if I could get away with it. I get it.
[00:24:08] Mitchell Prothero: Right. You know what I mean? But like sharing the photos, like that was the weird stuff for a lot of us.
[00:24:14] Jordan Harbinger: That is weird.
[00:24:15] Mitchell Prothero: What somebody told me in Amsterdam was, and I thought this was really interesting, is back when it was hashish, if there was a problem, and I have a theory about this, it's like if you're a major cocaine trafficker built around Morocco, Spain, Italy, your grandfather was a tobacco smuggler, your father was a hashish smuggler, and you're a cocaine smuggler. Like it's the same routes, it's the same business. It's just developed money-wise over the years. And this dude was telling me, basically was like, man, when it was hashish, if something went wrong, you could get a loan and fix it.
[00:24:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:24:50] Mitchell Prothero: Like how much hashish can you really lose?
[00:24:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. 25 grand, 50 grand, maybe a hundred. Yeah.
[00:24:56] Mitchell Prothero: Right. Like a hundred on a huge deal.
[00:24:59] Jordan Harbinger: Huge.
[00:24:59] Mitchell Prothero: You lose a hundred deal, nobody's going to kill you of a hundred grand. They know that you can probably come up with that.
[00:25:04] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:25:04] Mitchell Prothero: And that, you'll be able to work it off or whatever, but what if you lose 15 million in cocaine? There's no cops and there's no court. So as somebody put it during the podcast, I have to break your spine.
[00:25:17] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:25:18] Mitchell Prothero: And the reason why I have to break your spine is to make sure everybody knows I broke your spine. It's not about you.
[00:25:25] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:25:25] Mitchell Prothero: It's about making sure everybody who does business with me knows I will do that if there's like a loss of money. So when I was talking to guys that were sources of mine for this, a lot of them were fairly low level and I would ask them like, what's your plan? And one guy I knew, he was making pretty good money, but he'd stayed more or less retail.
[00:25:46] Jordan Harbinger: What's pretty good money in the industry?
[00:25:48] Mitchell Prothero: For this guy, this is where it'd be a shock, it's consistently six figures.
[00:25:52] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:25:52] Mitchell Prothero: No real arrests. Goes on vacation. He's like 28.
[00:25:57] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:25:57] Mitchell Prothero: They'll send you a menu on the messaging service and like you send in your order for cocaine. And there's a running joke in Amsterdam. It will always be 50 euros a gram. It'll always be pure and it'll always arrive in 30 minutes.
[00:26:11] Jordan Harbinger: From what I understand, pretty reasonable pricing and good service from the sound of it, if I can phrase it like that. I mean, that's interesting.
[00:26:19] Mitchell Prothero: It's very developed, from a history of buying drugs on the street, I would say probably 10, 15 years ago, it would be a lot easier to get ripped off and buy bad drugs and stuff like that.
[00:26:30] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:26:31] Mitchell Prothero: From what I could tell in Amsterdam, there's so much cocaine flowing through the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, and even some of the fruit ports that are around Amsterdam itself, even Le Havre in France. There's no incentive to rip you off. It's just easier to give you the drugs.
[00:26:47] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Okay. Are they cutting it?
[00:26:49] Mitchell Prothero: Every year, it gets more pure.
[00:26:51] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:26:51] Mitchell Prothero: And this is one of the problems that I had with this story is when I started out, I decided that there was absolutely no numbers that you could trust. Like the government, like, okay, what we know is how many metric tons of cocaine have been seized trying to come into Europe. Okay, we're it's democracies. They're probably not lying. You know what I mean? Like we've got a rough number of how many metric tons of cocaine have been intercepted coming into Europe. You can also, for the most part, tell what the retail price of a gram of cocaine is. Kind of check the availability. Like if you're a decent cop or narcotics detective, you should be able to tell whether or not people can just find it whenever they want or whether it's getting increasingly hard. And then, the last thing that you can check is the purity. When you seize drugs, how pure are they? Other than that, we don't know anything about the cocaine trade. And I just spent 15 months on this, off and on watching for five years. And I got to tell you, I've had European officials put the trade at eight to 10 billion euros a year.
[00:27:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:27:52] Mitchell Prothero: And then off the record, say we don't have any idea, we just use that number because it sounds good.
[00:27:56] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. And that means that it's probably far higher. because you wouldn't want to exaggerate in the upward direction, well, maybe you would for funding. I don't know. What do you think?
[00:28:04] Mitchell Prothero: I don't know. This is where I get confused. If you do the math, last year, Antwerp took 110 metric tons of cocaine at the port. And that's all pure cocaine.
[00:28:16] Jordan Harbinger: Geez.
[00:28:17] Mitchell Prothero: Even if you cut it, you're stomping those into container kilos.
[00:28:21] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:28:21] Mitchell Prothero: And container kilos become like three street kilos or two street kilos at least.
[00:28:27] Jordan Harbinger: Phew.
[00:28:27] Mitchell Prothero: But back in the day, they became four or five. It's really become a lot more pure. And this is on the record from the head of Belgian Customs, who I think is probably one of the most articulate and candid members of law enforcement working in the EU. It's just the guy who's in charge of customs at the poor Christian. I said, okay, you guys took 110 metric tons. This was before they had taken it, but we knew they were going to set a record. They were at like 90 at the time. What do you think you get? And he said it could be as bad as one out of 10. But then I did the math, and that means like 70 percent of what they estimate is the world cocaine production is going through Rotterdam and Antwerp. So that's not right.
[00:29:08] Jordan Harbinger: That can't be right. Yeah, that can't be right.
[00:29:10] Mitchell Prothero: The US and Europe are split like 50/50. Europe has passed the US in terms of consumption, but it's not by big.
[00:29:18] Jordan Harbinger: Really? I had no idea.
[00:29:20] Mitchell Prothero: The EU is the world's largest market for cocaine in the last two years.
[00:29:24] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:29:25] Mitchell Prothero: But not by like a massive margin. We're talking like 52/48.
[00:29:29] Jordan Harbinger: I would've thought you were going to say the cocaine market in Europe is the same size as the cocaine market in Florida. Not counting the rest of the United States.
[00:29:35] Mitchell Prothero: No.
[00:29:36] Jordan Harbinger: I didn't realize it was the same/actually larger. That's incredible.
[00:29:40] Mitchell Prothero: Since 1990, since 1995 or whatever, like since the wall came down, remember, there's like a million new middle-class people every year in Poland—
[00:29:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:29:49] Mitchell Prothero: —Slovakia, Czechia, Romania, Ukraine, who can afford 100 euros on a weekend? Like not everybody can, but every year more and more people have that kind of money because you're not talking huge amounts of money. You're talking 50, 70, 100 euros for a night out with your friends. Guys in Poland can afford that. Guys in Romania can afford that, probably not on a widespread level. Romania is pretty poor, but they definitely have people in Bucharest who can. So this is where the market keeps expanding each year. The more you build out a middle class and an upper middle class throughout the rest of Eastern Europe, the market keeps getting bigger. But when I went back and did that math, I realized that that was like way too much cocaine production.
[00:30:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:30:31] Mitchell Prothero: So I started questioning the numbers that were given on what are the estimates of cocaine production? What are the estimates of what's smuggled? Because honestly, nobody can tell you, and that's the one thing I learned. Even the street value when they say like, we took a hundred kilos with a street value of whatever. I've asked every law enforcement agency in Europe, more or less, where they get that number and they either won't say or have a different formula. Like how do you really explain the value of a hundred kilos on a container from Antwerp?
[00:31:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, interesting. Right, you go with the street value, which is—
[00:31:07] Mitchell Prothero: Like, what's the value?
[00:31:08] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:31:09] Mitchell Prothero: For me, what I learned is at each step of the way, they're worth about 4,000 euros each.
[00:31:14] Jordan Harbinger: The kilo?
[00:31:15] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah.
[00:31:15] Jordan Harbinger: A kilo of cocaine for 4,000 euros sounds cheap.
[00:31:18] Mitchell Prothero: No, no, no. Your value for it moving through you is 4,000.
[00:31:23] Jordan Harbinger: I see. Okay. Gotcha.
[00:31:25] Mitchell Prothero: So at each step while the kilo moves, and one of the things I learned is that a kilo has about a two-year shelf life. It's about two years from production to consumption for a kilo of cocaine.
[00:31:36] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, interesting. I thought you meant it went bad, which, you know?
[00:31:39] Mitchell Prothero: No, it never goes bad. This is why it's the most pure capitalistic product. In fact, there's a running joke about it never goes bad. It's easily carryable and anywhere in the world you can sell it at a relatively understandable value price. Like there's a transparent market price.
[00:31:55] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:31:55] Mitchell Prothero: If you have a kilo of cocaine, you can find people who will buy that from you at a fairly understandable price, like a reasonable commodity. It's the purest commodity.
[00:32:06] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:32:06] Mitchell Prothero: You can hold it for three or four years, waiting for the value to go up. The only stressor about a kilo of cocaine is that somebody might find out you have a kilo of cocaine and arrest you or take it.
[00:32:16] Jordan Harbinger: That makes sense.
[00:32:17] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah.
[00:32:17] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:32:18] Mitchell Prothero: Other than that, it's literally the perfect capitalist product, and that's one of the things that we learned because the value is understood worldwide as a commodity.
[00:32:29] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Mitch Prothero. We'll be right back.
[00:32:34] This episode is sponsored in part by Better Help. Life can sometimes feel like a relentless tornado pulling us into a vortex of perpetual caretaking for others, kids, elderly parents, your job, of course. It's easy to neglect our own personal pause button and like a violent string being pulled to tot, we find ourselves on the precipice of snapping dangerously close to the edge of burnout. Here's where therapy steps in like a life preserver, a therapist is going to equip you with a full toolbox of strategies to regain equilibrium, even sever ties with those who pull you down. It empowers you to continue being a beacon of support for others while ensuring your self-care doesn't dissolve into the background, a common predicament, particularly if you are juggling a business and/or family. Remember, self-care is not indulgence. It is your life. It is your lifeline. If you've been mulling over therapy, Better Help is definitely a great place to start. Better Help is completely online, tailored to your schedule, sparing you the stress of commuting, driving, parking, all that. Fill out a short questionnaire. They pair you up real quick. If, for any reason, you want to switch therapists, do so anytime. No additional charge.
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[00:35:39] Now back to Mitch Prothero.
[00:35:43] That's interesting. Why so long? Because it seems like it's produced in South America. Shipping takes a week. I don't know how long production takes, but it can't be that long. And you're talking about from production to consumption. So that's negligible anyway. Where is it sitting for a long time, and why?
[00:36:00] Mitchell Prothero: I think it's a long route. You know, like a month in the jungle, a month getting moved to a place, a month getting organized into a thing, getting put onto the container. When the container's ready to go, it might have to sit and wait for the proper opportunity to get on the boat, gets on the boat, gets offloaded on the boat. It's got to get moved. Because the vast majority of the cocaine, particularly in Antwerp and Rotterdam, coming into Europe, it's feeding all of Europe. So like, yeah, Antwerp and Rotterdam have really cheap, high-quality cocaine, but most of what's coming through the ports, going to Berlin, to Hamburg, to France, you know, it's moving out. It's too much. This is not serving the local market at any means. So you know, there's a distribution cycle that goes through that entire thing and people will hold on to cocaine. Like I said, it's a commodity. So if you are a retail drug gang in Paris, you're trying to move out as much as you can, but maybe their wholesaler holds onto some kilos and waits for the price to go up. It's a commodity, and it gets treated like a commodity.
[00:37:06] So that's the estimate researchers came up with. But that came up during COVID, and that was the first time they were able to really track. There was such an interruption in the cocaine supply that you were then able to really track the half-life of a kilo as it went throughout the entire system, because there wasn't anything coming after it.
[00:37:24] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting.
[00:37:24] Mitchell Prothero: And so researchers were able to figure that out. But there's a money aspect to this too, and it's all quite regulated. You have to understand there's law firms and businesses and accountants and all the stuff that sort of arranges the world cocaine trade. But one of them is if you sell a kilo to the United States, and it goes through the Mexicans who mostly control the routes into the US, you get paid in about six months. You send off your kilo. About six months later, you get your money. With Europe, it's a year to 18 months.
[00:37:54] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Those payment terms are terrible. I thought podcasting payment terms were bad.
[00:37:59] Mitchell Prothero: It's net 540 or whatever from invoice.
[00:38:02] Jordan Harbinger: I feel like I made this joke just recently, but I'm not sure if it was about drugs. Yeah. Here I'm at all-net 60, net 90. They're really screwing us guys. Yeah, meanwhile, 18 months later, you're getting paid for your drugs, and you could get killed and/or thrown in jail for it. I don't know, maybe podcasting's not so bad.
[00:38:17] Mitchell Prothero: This is where things get wild in the cocaine trade economically, particularly for the European guys. You know, I'm convinced that there's a financier level above them who simply make cash liquid available between those moments.
[00:38:31] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:38:32] Mitchell Prothero: Because a lot of the guys that I've studied, and we've seen this with Taghi, and we've seen this with other guys from intercepting phone messages, we can kind of put together what they've got to do for the people that are under arrest. Like they've got huge organizations, they've got to support. Ridouan Taghi is frequently on the record saying he's got to work deals from prison because he's got to pay dudes that are already in prison for him. He's got to pay family members, he's got to pay family members of people who are in prison for him. So even though he's in jail for life, he knows he's never getting out. But he's still also got to try to get deals done because he's got to try to shove money into the business, the corporation that he's got.
[00:39:09] Jordan Harbinger: Huh?
[00:39:10] Mitchell Prothero: So one of the things that we learned is that if you go down for a drug crime, let's say, in Antwerp, working for one of the major cartels, and you get thrown in prison, you just shut up and take it. Your family gets about 2000 euros a month while you're in jail. And then when you get out of jail, you get a cash bonus based on how long you were in jail and kept your mouth shut, which is a very reasonable, capitalistic human resources way to look at things. But what it also does is it puts tremendous liquidity pressure on the dealers. Every month, they got to get that money out.
[00:39:43] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:43] Mitchell Prothero: So this is where things start getting weird and tense when shipments get lost. I was shocked at how not liquid your average cartel dude is. Like he's worth a lot or she's worth a lot in some cases.
[00:39:58] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:58] Mitchell Prothero: But like they always need cash. You know, by the end of this project, people kept asking me, so who's the biggest drug dealer in Europe? Who's the biggest cartel in Europe? And you're like the last one to get one through.
[00:40:11] Jordan Harbinger: Huh? You think of cartels as having rooms filled to the top with money and everything like that, but it sounds like that's not quite the case, especially when you're talking about these European smugglers.
[00:40:23] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah, just in general, like, I mean, there's a middle manager at the Cali Cartel or any of the Mexican cartels who's got a budget and who's stressed the f*ck out about whatever, you know what I mean? And he's going to his boss all the time. I've worked for more than one company that's got a billion-dollar valuation that had some rough spots where suddenly expenses slowed down—
[00:40:48] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:40:49] Mitchell Prothero: —when they were getting paid. You know, it's the same thing. But these guys have incredibly volatile cash situations. If it takes even six months from the US. Think about that you got to kill people, you got to bribe guards, you got to pay people to drive the stuff. You got to support the people that are already in prison for you. These guys are rich, but they're also cash poor in a weird way. At one point, I was told, and I don't know if this is true, but it's a shocking number because it's so high. I wonder, but if it is true, it really gives you perspective. Is that, so the Kinahan organized crime network, who partners of Ridouan Taghi—
[00:41:25] Jordan Harbinger: Is this the Irish guys?
[00:41:27] Mitchell Prothero: The Irish guys who we thought last were in Dubai. Everybody indicted them and then they still hadn't been picked up. We all thought they were going to get arrested like six months ago. I still don't know why they haven't, but in any moment they're all going to get busted. But they were running Ireland's biggest heroin and cocaine organization. They were running at Dubai. And I was told by a cop that they had to get about 20 million euros into Ireland every month.
[00:41:54] Jordan Harbinger: Every month, to pay for the network?
[00:41:56] Mitchell Prothero: To pay for the network. Buying real estate in Dubai off your cocaine money isn't that hard. You know what I mean?
[00:42:03] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:42:03] Mitchell Prothero: But like every month, you got to get millions and then distributed throughout Dublin.
[00:42:09] Jordan Harbinger: How do you do that?
[00:42:10] Mitchell Prothero: Mules, watches. One thing I've been told, that's pretty popular, is you go into a jewelry store and, let's say, a shady one in Antwerp, and you go, "I need five million in watches. Do you have a cousin in Dubai that can pick them up?"
[00:42:27] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:42:28] Mitchell Prothero: You give the guy four, five million, and then you carry the watches over the border. You go into some guy's shop, you hand the cousin of the guy, you bought them from the watches, and he gives you 4.9 back.
[00:42:38] Jordan Harbinger: Got it.
[00:42:39] Mitchell Prothero: Or whatever.
[00:42:39] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Okay.
[00:42:41] Mitchell Prothero: There's a lot of different ways to do it, but once you start doing it into Dublin and once you start doing it into Ireland from Dubai is when the cops can really start messing with you and that's when they start chasing your money trails. The follow the money part is it completely disrupts these networks. So I think the guys that are out of Dubai that work Amsterdam and Antwerp and Rotterdam, they've got it a little easier because of the diamond horses and stuff like that. They can move the watches, they can move rocks, they can move gold. But when you look at places like Ireland, it's really hard, man. Think about the logistics of moving 20 million euros in cash every month.
[00:43:19] Jordan Harbinger: That would be extremely tough to do. And like you mentioned, the diamond market. I mean, if you're moving 20 million precious gems in and out, yeah, that's still a lot of money. But it's a business with a lot of expensive stuff going to a lot of places, major cities across the world. Dublin, not necessarily known for that. going to stick out way more, it's like moving contraband or money out of New York. If you wire 20 million out of New York, it's a lot of money, but it's going in and out every day. If you wire 20 million in and out of the Albuquerque, New Mexico, somebody's going to go, why the hell is there 20 million moving out of Albuquerque every single month? Or Mobile, Alabama, or something like that. It's going to be a different look.
[00:43:56] Mitchell Prothero: If the Irish police are desperate to arrest you and know you live in Dubai, they're going to watch.
[00:44:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yep.
[00:44:02] Mitchell Prothero: You know? And so this is why money laundering and what to do with the money turns out to be the biggest thing in a lot of these. So the way I look at a lot of these cartels, from what I can tell, is these are guys who are pretty brutal, but are also really organized and good at logistics, good at managing, good at planning and stuff like that. But they're pretty replaceable cogs.
[00:44:26] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:27] Mitchell Prothero: One thing that I kind of figured out, it's definitely true for the Italians, although they're set up more in a family thing, which is like we can lose a couple of nephews—
[00:44:37] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:37] Mitchell Prothero: —if that's what it takes for the rest of us, you know, we can lose them to the prison system and take care of them or whatever. With the Moroccans, I always felt like there was a bit of a like steel cage grudge match going on in Antwerp and in Amsterdam, where the guys who wanted to control it on that level were allowed to fight it out to see who got to be the guy. But at the end, the money's still going to the same place.
[00:45:00] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:45:01] Mitchell Prothero: And still probably going to the same people, and they aren't the people that like we automatically think of.
[00:45:08] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting.
[00:45:08] Mitchell Prothero: Because like you've still got to do something with the Europe hole number of eight to 10 billion euros a year. We don't know if it's 14, we don't know if it's six, but it's a lot of money. That money's going somewhere and it's entering into these different economies, and that's one of the things that I'm the most fascinated about. Now that I've kind of figured out the logistical violence side of the cocaine trade. There's a different level, which is a lot harder and a lot less sexy to go through, which is like, how did the Calabrian Mafia, the Ndrangheta end up with a GDP that Europol estimates is the size of Croatians?
[00:45:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's incredible.
[00:45:46] Mitchell Prothero: They're not doing that from drug dealer, do you know what I mean?
[00:45:50] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah. Your podcast Gateway, which we'll link in the show notes. It talks about Taghi. You've mentioned Taghi a few times. Tell me who this guy is because this guy is not the type of criminal Europe was used to dealing with in many ways.
[00:46:03] Mitchell Prothero: America really hasn't had a guy like this either for at least a really long time. Ridouan Taghi was a guy who, you know, he's in his mid-40s now. He was born in Morocco. He came to the Netherlands as part of the guest worker program. His family had moved in. And as a young kid, he joined like a little scooter gang and was known for like dealing some hash, small-time stuff. We have a cliche now. It's like a kid on a scooter in a North Face jacket selling like grams of cocaine or small bags of hash. And this is like a bit of a drug dealing cliche across Europe. So he's like one of these kids. And for whatever reason, there was some family connections. Nobody's really sure why he kept low profile. Suddenly, he just goes back to Morocco, gives up his Dutch citizenship, and he goes back and forth. And what it turned out is that, again, like I was saying, is if you look at a lot of these families, the way the networks or the rot lines or as the Mexicans got like the plaza, the route, these are developed over generations. These aren't like new things because of cocaine. This is how you smuggled tobacco back in the day. It's how you smuggled washing machines and dishwashers and sh*t that you didn't want to pay taxes on.
[00:47:17] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:47:17] Mitchell Prothero: You know, between Morocco and Spain and France and Holland like there's always been this stuff prior to the EU. So Taghi's family had had sort of one of those setups and they'd been known for like tobacco and hash. And he got into hash when he was young, smuggling it basically between Morocco and Spain. But he kept his connections to Amsterdam and was always going back and forth between Holland and both. Over time he started turning these connections into moving cocaine. And this was right around the time of a Moroccan mafia war that had popped up around 2012 as the Moroccans had become more and more powerful in the ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam, Le Havre. They kind of pushed out the Italians and were like shoving with the Serbs and the Albanians. But basically, they were the immigrant community that was like living next to the ports and all had jobs at the ports. Like there was a natural thing. And so the Moroccan community had been famous for, if you needed a guy who knew how to get something out of the port, this was your guy. It's not nefarious, it's just, it's every port that's ever existed. And so this is where these guys had come from, kind of. And so over time, they'd been the guys that you'd pay to get cocaine out of those containers like I was describing. And at some point, somebody started paying them in cocaine instead of cash.
[00:48:38] Jordan Harbinger: Paying the dealers?
[00:48:39] Mitchell Prothero: No. Instead of basically getting three or 4,000 euros per kilo for getting it through the port of Antwerp, they were giving you kilos of cocaine because it was cheaper for them.
[00:48:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it makes sense. You're selling something that has a lower cost for you, but you mentioned the cash poor thing. Now, you've got one less guy to pay because you have the product in your hand. You don't have to wait 18 months. So you might as well hand 'em what you were already holding.
[00:49:01] Mitchell Prothero: And that's what they were thinking. But what they didn't consider was the part where it's crime. And so what—
[00:49:07] Jordan Harbinger: Fair, okay.
[00:49:07] Mitchell Prothero: —you just did was you exponentially grew your employee and made your employee now not need you.
[00:49:15] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Because now they're a drug dealer.
[00:49:16] Mitchell Prothero: Right. They're not getting 3,000 or 4,000. They've got their own kilos and they have the route. So now they're putting their own kilos into the f*cking containers.
[00:49:26] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:49:27] Mitchell Prothero: And now they're asking other people to put it in and suddenly they're the wholesalers and you're a client. And that's what shifted primarily since 2012. And that was a process that had been going on and that's why we saw what they call the macro mafia. And I mean, there's a lot of drama and cliche and like anti-immigrant stereotyping behind it, but you know, there is a legitimate, loosely knit criminal organization in the Moroccan community that pulls drugs out of the containers and has taken over moving them across Europe. And this is how they forced them out.
[00:50:01] Jordan Harbinger: Are the Moroccans dealing directly with Colombians?
[00:50:03] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah.
[00:50:04] Jordan Harbinger: They are. Okay.
[00:50:05] Mitchell Prothero: This is what changed after 2016. One of the reasons why we saw an explosion, and I'm no expert on this, you can bring back somebody who really understands the North and South American cocaine trade. I'm a Europe guy, but my understanding was that for the longest time, the Colombians paid the Mexicans to get it into the United States, and so they made the best money and the Mexicans got paid like $3,000 or $4,000 per kilo, as I was saying, to move it across. Until the Colombians started paying the Mexicans in cocaine. And that's when these guys blew up. And that's when you started seeing the cartels and the Zetas, El Chapo, and these guys prior to that. And in fact, Narcos does this, if you see Narcos: Mexico.
[00:50:47] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:50:47] Mitchell Prothero: It's an entire plot line where the guy negotiates getting paid in cocaine, set of money from the Cali cartel. And this was setting the stage for basically the Mexican cartels taking over and they control the American cocaine trade. So the very similar thing happened is in 2016, when the Colombians cut a peace deal from their civil war, and they basically disbanded the FARC, which was the Marxist left-wing organization, and they disbanded the AUC, which was the hardcore right-wing paramilitary groups. The AUC had supplied Europe. They supplied Europe through the Calabrian, Ndrangheta, which is still overwhelmingly the most powerful organized crime group in the world.
[00:51:26] Jordan Harbinger: This is colloquially known as the Italian Mafia.
[00:51:28] Mitchell Prothero: Well, there's three Italian Mafias, and one's from Sicily, one's from Calabria, and one's from Naples. It's Camorra, Ndrangheta, and La Cosa Nostra.
[00:51:37] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:51:37] Mitchell Prothero: And Ndrangheta is by far the most powerful of the three. They're the most low key, and they don't have movies made about them, but they have a GDP the size of Croatia according to Europol. And so those guys had always been the people that you had to go through if you wanted to import cocaine into Europe. You had to basically make a deal with the Ndrangheta and the Ndrangheta would hook you up with their AUC guy, and they would broker the whole deal, and you would get a decent percentage. Once the 2016 peace deal happened, everything broke apart. And so now, if you had the guts, you could go to Colombia and source your own. The Ndrangheta, it didn't get weaker. They just moved up a step into financing and ensuring and money laundering. They're not in a worse economic position because of this, but they did step aside a little bit because they knew their monopoly had been cut out.
[00:52:25] So now, anybody who wants to go to Colombia and try to find somebody who can sell them five metric tons of cocaine can try. You might get ripped off. You might get killed. You also might become the new El Chapo. So that's what the Moroccans were able to do is start sourcing it. The Serbs have done the same thing as for the first time. I know guys that are actually producing their own kilos of cocaine from the jungles in Peru, smuggling them to Europe and selling them, and that's unheard of in terms of vertical integration.
[00:52:55] Jordan Harbinger: It's like farm to table but for cocaine.
[00:52:58] Mitchell Prothero: Normally, white boys from Europe do not get to roll into the Peruvian jungle and like run their own cocaine labs. Like there's a bunch of Peruvians and Colombians that think you shouldn't be allowed to do that.
[00:53:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:53:10] Mitchell Prothero: But the thing is, something's changed and that's what I don't fully understand.
[00:53:15] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:53:15] Mitchell Prothero: And I'm a little bit curious about that is there are dudes that are going there and cutting these deals now, and Peruvians are working with them and Colombians are working with them to source. So we start seeing organizations. Taghi didn't last long enough to quite get there, but I'm watching organizations right now that might really be making their own kilos and selling them in Berlin.
[00:53:37] Jordan Harbinger: Hashtag diversity. That's very weird.
[00:53:39] Mitchell Prothero: Again, why he would want to have dinner with Jeff Bezos is to understand how to dominate every moment in the profit and supply line. In the past, you could be like a wholesaler, you could be a retailer, but you had to deal with a bunch of people alone. This is why I keep saying the 3,000 to 4,000 euros per kilo.
[00:53:57] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:53:57] Mitchell Prothero: That's about what you could expect for being a drug dealer, you know? But once you can control the source, you control the port, suddenly, you're making 25,000. It's exponential.
[00:54:09] Jordan Harbinger: Cutting out the middleman will increase profits in any industry. You mentioned some of the weapon seizures and straight out of Narcos kind of stuff that you expect to see in South America where the cartels are fighting each other. I think one of the examples you gave in the podcast was severed heads in front of shisha lounge, headless bodies, massive weapon seizures, and you said follow the car is not just the money. What's going on? How has crime changed in Europe since all of this has gone down?
[00:54:35] Mitchell Prothero: Crime in Europe is not even close to, of course, what we'd see in the United States in terms of gun crime or any of it. Definitely among street dealers and things like that, the levels of crime that you'd see are much lower. There's fewer guns around. So, you know, if a cocaine distribution gang on a corner gets into a thing, let's say the cliches from the wire or whatever, you know, they're going to solve that by hitting each other with sticks and stabbing. Maybe one gunshot here. One guy might get shot in the leg, but they don't have like seven murders a day type stuff.
[00:55:09] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:55:09] Mitchell Prothero: Like Amsterdam has like 30 murders a year at max. But what I ended up finding was in each of these situations, depending on the gangs, so just from the Moroccan Mafia standpoint, since 2012, a third of the murders in Belgium and Amsterdam are directly related to the same community.
[00:55:27] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:55:28] Mitchell Prothero: So it starts becoming intense when you start realizing that, yeah, there was 30 murders last year in this area and 20 of them were involved in the same industry. You know, you do get like random crime, but it's rare. You get spousal abuse, but it's rare. But you do get, every month or so, somebody's getting killed and found in a burned-out car. And one of the ways that they've kept attention off of this is by spreading it out because it's Schengen again, to refer back to the European Union, you can travel anywhere within the 27 countries without showing your passport. So nobody knows where you're. You know, you can be in Spain, you can be in Estonia. The cops have no way to really check, but you also have different crime statistics in each place. So you kill three guys in Spain, you kill three guys in Belgium, you kill four guys in Holland, well, you just killed like 10 guys, but it looks small—
[00:56:26] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:56:26] Mitchell Prothero: —to each of the law enforcement people that are looking at it. And then you disappear four other guys whose bodies are never found. In the case of Amsterdam right now, there's a woman. Auntie Jillal, I don't mean to laugh, but she was a broker, one of the only Moroccan women who was a broker in cocaine. She factors into Taghi, only peripherally. We know it happened to her because of Taghi, but she got involved in some deal as a broker where she was, again, like with the Ndrangheta primarily does like negotiate between the buyer and seller and sort of be the one to promise that everybody does what they're going to do. You know, you do need some level of trust on these deals.
[00:57:03] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:57:04] Mitchell Prothero: And so she would put these people together, something went wrong and somebody was very mad at her and she was kidnapped and disappeared. It wasn't Taghi who did it. I think I know who did it, but for legal reasons probably can't say. And we know what happened to her because she showed up on Taghi's phone being like dismembered in photos—
[00:57:23] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:57:24] Mitchell Prothero: —and tortured. So the Dutch cops know she's dead. They've seen the pictures. Nobody ever found her body. But the only reason we know what happened to her is because somebody thought it would be amusing to forward those photos to Ridouan Taghi's Blackberry. He didn't even order the hit. It wasn't his guy. Because we have all kinds of messages from Taghi being like, "Kill him, kill him, kill him, blood." He was a psycho guy who like probably is responsible for 30 murders or attempted murders easily. He's on trial for like 12, but like there's more.
[00:57:59] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:57:59] Mitchell Prothero: And he'll get charged with them as they come down or they can't make cases, but he's strongly suspected in dozens of attempted or successful murders. And so he's yelling about that stuff. But then in the middle of it, there's just like one of his colleagues sends him like, "Here's what happened to Auntie Jillal.
[00:58:15] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:58:16] Mitchell Prothero: And they're all laughing about it.
[00:58:17] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned that you are not that worried, but the mafia, these organized crime groups, they do target journalists. There was one guy that you mentioned in the podcast, ran a car through the front door of his office. Another guy had a rocket propelled grenade shot through his window. I mean, that's not low key at all.
[00:58:32] Mitchell Prothero: I mean, two of them got shot in the head, blogger was killed. Martin Kok and then Peter De Vries, probably the most famous, like crime reporter in all of Holland, was murdered by people that are strongly believed to be working for Ridouan Taghi. How do I put this? I'm just a day trader on this stuff. Like I'm not the guys that were like spending every day grinding on them, figuring out who they were, and revealing them. You know, that's why like I joked, and I'm not joking, like if they'll let me into jail, I'll play this podcast for Taghi to his face.
[00:59:02] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:59:03] Mitchell Prothero: He knows what's in it. I don't think that we're terribly unfair. Obviously, I point out that, you know, he killed a lot of people and seemed kind of brutal. But he knows that we've heard the tape. Like we've seen the text messages. Taghi knows he is a murderer. You know, he just thinks it's justified. So in that regard, I think it's okay. But the biggest thing that you have to look out for, and this is why I'm not dismissive of it, because I'm as somebody who's worked all over the world, constantly working with local journalists who have so much more skin in the game—
[00:59:32] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:59:32] Mitchell Prothero: —you know, who are completely essential to me ever being able to get anything done. And these are the people that it's serious, you know? Like I kept joking. They're not going to kill me, man. They're going to kill somebody we interviewed. Like those are the people that I worry about. These are the people that are there every single day that are involved with them in their lives and stuff like that. One guy was telling me he's got a nickname among the Moroccan Mafia. They call him Smeagol because I think he looks like Gollum. He's got a nickname where like Moroccan and Afro-Caribbean gangsters, even Dutch gangsters sit around joking about the physical appearance of these reporters. So they know that's what's dangerous.
[01:00:15] You see a guy like Jan in Slovenia who got killed a few years ago, he was investigating local corruption. Daphne in Malta who got killed. Her son Paul has become an amazing investigative reporter out of London for Tortoise. Daphne got killed. She got killed investigating local corruption. Those are the people that really are at risk. When you're revealing corruption among your police and politicians in your local community, that's dangerous. Like what I do, eh, you know, you got to be careful, like, you know, stuff like that. But I'm not messing with them in their homes and I'm usually wrapping up something that some local kind already did.
[01:00:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:00:52] Mitchell Prothero: I'm not so high on my own supply to think that like I'm revealing the world of Ridouan Taghi to our podcast listeners. What I'm doing is really like curating a bunch of different reporting and going through and figuring out what mattered over a 10-year period and trying to put my own spin on it. But like I didn't discover anything about this guy's business that people didn't already know. And so that's different. Like again, it's a business. If you're going to kill a journalist, it's really got to be worth it and it's rarely worth it, or it's an emotional decision because it's local. Like with Martin Kok, it was definitely personal with him and Taghi.
[01:01:30] Jordan Harbinger: This is a journalist who was murdered?
[01:01:31] Mitchell Prothero: Martin was a blogger who was the first person to print Taghi's name, but he'd also been a criminal. He'd spent like 16 years in jail. He was really well known. He committed two murders he was proud of, and he was a blogger who had made a good living, basically blogging about like the cocaine milieu of Holland. And so he started messing with Taghi and started messing with Taghi's partner at the time, Noffel, and making fat jokes about Noffel and referring to Taghi as looking like a muppet. Then, printed their names for the first time in public. They tried like four times. It was like Keystone Cops. The first three times they failed. It was amazing. But they did get Martin and they killed him because he was the first guy to print their name and he was from the criminal world too.
[01:02:17] When you talked about the RPG was shot into the newsroom of a friend of mine at night, and to this day he goes, well, I don't know why they did it. Well, he's being humble. They did it because he had printed Ridouan Taghi's name second after Martin Kok. But he doesn't, but he doesn know, but he's got to, you know, I appreciate that he's humble like that. There's a lot of reasons why you might do that, but this is what these guys were trying to do.
[01:02:40] Peter De Vries, who is probably one of the most famous journalists in Holland, at least in terms of crime stuff, he was killed. And we strongly suspect the evidence absolutely points to Ridouan Taghi. Although he has not been charged and he does get a trial for it, it just really doesn't look great. You know, he had semi-threatened Peter when Peter was just a journalist covering it, and Taghi put out this amazing statement saying, "I'd never hurt a hair on your head." But then, Peter went to work for a crown witness that was testifying against Taghi. He changed sides on some level, and at that point, he became fair game and they killed him. Just like they killed the same crown witness's lawyer prior to that.
[01:03:22] And so this is what makes Taghi really interesting, is that he's one of the rare European, or even American, you know, Americans don't do this either to actually go against the state, to actually attack the institutions of the state in order to intimidate it. And Taghi tried. He killed lawyers, he killed bloggers, he killed journalists. The Crown Princess couldn't go to university last year.
[01:03:44] Jordan Harbinger: Why?
[01:03:45] Mitchell Prothero: Because she's in productive custody. Taghi was going to try to kidnap her, apparently.
[01:03:52] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Mitch Prothero. We'll be right back.
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[01:05:01] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is sponsored in part by Airbnb. So we used to travel a lot for podcast interviews and conferences and we love staying in Airbnbs because we often meet interesting people and the stays are just more unique and fun. One of our favorite places to stay at in LA is with a sweet older couple whose kids been moved out. They have a granny flat in their backyard. We used to stay there all the time. We were regulars, always booking their Airbnb when we flew down for interviews. And we loved it because they'd leave a basket of snacks, sometimes a bottle of wine, even a little note for us, and they would leave us freshly baked banana bread because they knew that I liked it. And they even became listeners of this podcast, which is how they knew about the banana bread. So after our house was built, we decided to become hosts ourselves, turning one of our spare bedrooms into an Airbnb. Maybe you've stayed in an Airbnb before and thought to yourself, "Hey, if this seems pretty doable, maybe my place could be an Airbnb." It could be as simple as starting with a spare room or your whole place while you're away. You could be sitting on an Airbnb and not even know it. Perhaps you get a fantastic vacation plan for the balmy days of summer. As you're out there soaking up the sun and making memories, your house doesn't need to sit idle, turn it into an Airbnb, let it be a vacation home for somebody else. And picture this, your little one isn't so little anymore. They're headed off to college this fall, the echo in their now empty bedroom might be a little too much to bear. So whether you could use a little extra money to cover some bills or something a little more fun, your home might be worth more than you think. Find out how much at airbnb.com/host.
[01:06:24] Guys, I want to give a shout-out to one of my favorite YouTube channels. It's called The China Show. It's run by two of my friends of Laowhy86 and Serpent Z. Imagine picking those names a bunch of years ago and being like, this will never be cringey. Winston and C-Milk, really good guys. I guess that's another name, C-Milk. There's a story there, I'm sure. These are great guys. They lived in China for 10 years, 14 years, respectively. They are incredibly versed with Chinese news. They do a roundup of things going on in China like AI and why people are going bonkers over ice cream. But also things like the Pentagon leak and what those documents have to do with Chinese policy. So it's not super nerd-alert when it comes to in-the-weeds policies and politics, but it's really interesting. They try to keep it funny and light as well. I watch pretty much every one of their videos that they put out, all these guys, especially The China Show episodes. If you want to stay up to date on China, if you want to get an idea for the threat that the Chinese Communist Party has, or just get a really cool and funny look into Chinese culture itself, then I definitely recommend The China Show. One recent video they did was on the state of AI in China, and it just kind of devolves into this funny cultural critique. So definitely, check out the link in the show notes. It's called The China Show. You can literally just search for The China Show on YouTube and you'll find it and let me know what you think. Good guys, great show.
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[01:08:01] Now for the rest of my conversation with Mitch Prothero.
[01:08:06] Oh my God. See, this makes it sound like Mexico-type narco stuff.
[01:08:10] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah, I mean, I don't know how serious the threat was to the Crown Princess, but it was Taghi and it's serious enough, man, like she couldn't go. She's living under protective custody. Two lawyers I interviewed they've since quit the case over reasons that I don't really know about, but for two years, they lived in safe houses with 24/7 protection from cops because their predecessor had been killed and their colleague Peter De Vries had been killed, who'd been doing media for the crown witness. You know, the Dutch have this amazing gimmick where the prime minister like rides his bike to work every day?
[01:08:48] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah.
[01:08:49] Mitchell Prothero: It's their populist thing, and I'm sure that he rides his bike to work a lot, but like it's a political populism thing. He's got to take a car, man. They found guys following him.
[01:09:00] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:09:00] Mitchell Prothero: By checking his route. They found that Belgian police, this is probably not Taghi related, it's definitely cocaine from the ports related, two or three kids got arrested following the Belgian Justice Minister around with face masks and a Kalashnikov in the car.
[01:09:19] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. That is, this is crazy.
[01:09:21] Mitchell Prothero: They were at least considering a hit on the Belgian Justice Minister. They didn't try. They got intercepted. But it happens all the time. Like this is really on the edge. So when you look at the murder numbers, yeah, man, Amsterdam's a really safe city go visit, you know? But like don't traffic cocaine.
[01:09:38] Jordan Harbinger: Huh? When I was there, somebody got stabbed outside our youth hostel and I was like, oh, this is not a safe place.
[01:09:44] Mitchell Prothero: Eh, you know, I mean, compared to what? A Walmart now, I mean, you know.
[01:09:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I mean, touche. Exactly.
[01:09:50] Mitchell Prothero: But seriously, it's like when you realize like, it does kind of seem like this chill utopia, you know, when you're hanging out in Holland. It's one of the wealthiest countries on Earth. It's got one of the best like gaps. I mean, the rich people are very rich, but the poor people aren't as really poor as you see. In a lot of different places, the inequality is bad, but it's not as bad as you'd see in the US or UK or even France. But at the same time, there's this undercurrent of like darkness that's running through it. And part of it is just Dutch history. There are a bunch of drug dealers, man. I say this with respect. The Dutch and the Flemish, Antwerp and Rotterdam did not become the biggest ports in Europe among the biggest ports on earth by making people sh*t late. Like they get the sushi and the fruit off the port and out to the client. They don't mess around. They are the people who basically invented modern capitalism. They invented the idea of futures insurance stock, international trade on some level was all organized by the Dutch in very early times. These guys are experts on it.
[01:10:55] And so when you start looking at the stuff, a friend of mine joked is like the Spanish took over South America and they exploit in Central America and they murdered everybody and they stole everything. They told them they were converting them to Catholicism, so at least they were saving their souls. He's like, we showed up in Indonesia, shelled the locals, inserted an opium market. We're not here to save your religion, dude. We're here to make money. And then, they follow this up with the legalization of cannabis or the semi-legalization of marijuana and cannabis. So one of the things I learned is that if you take, remember, our eight to 10 billion in cocaine each year coming through Rotterdam and Antwerp, it's also eight to 10 billion for cannabis running through Amsterdam because it's decriminalized there, but if you want to buy 10 kilos of marijuana and you live in Berlin—
[01:11:46] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:11:47] Mitchell Prothero: —go to Amsterdam. It's probably the place to meet the guy. So it's an eight to $10 billion industry for that. And then what I think people don't realize is like ecstasy, LSD, speed, every complicated club drug you can possibly think of, virtually all of the world supply is made out of labs on the border between Belgium and Holland, in Limburg. And they're made rural labs. So they've got the club drug thing locked down, which is, again, worth eight to 10 billion euros—
[01:12:14] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:12:15] Mitchell Prothero: —each year. I say this out of respect to their capitalist tendencies, but when you look at Holland on some level, they've got a recession-proof, diversified drug dealing economy. That's like the envy of the world. Weed will pick up if cocaine goes down.
[01:12:32] Jordan Harbinger: Let's put a bow on Taghi. And I've got a couple of more general organized crime questions. So Taghi has caused prosecutors to resign without real explanation. His lawyer, I think, is jailed because she was passing messages to his network.
[01:12:46] Mitchell Prothero: She has not been convicted of that.
[01:12:48] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[01:12:49] Mitchell Prothero: She has been jailed, but she was let out. She is currently free. Her name's Inez Weski, and she's actually one of the more famous human rights lawyers in the world. She's repeatedly argued cases in the Hague, but usually on the side of the defendant. She was Charles Taylor's lawyer.
[01:13:05] Jordan Harbinger: The dictator of Liberia. Yeah.
[01:13:07] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah, the Liberian. She was his lawyer. Inez is like a legendary defense attorney, but she has been accused of passing messages from Taghi to his family from maximum security and possibly leading to him being able to partially run his drug empire. She denies the charges very emphatically. I've had other people tell me that there's a possibility that she was so threatened that maybe she thought it was the way to go.
[01:13:33] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:13:34] Mitchell Prothero: But it also came on the heels of the revelation that Taghi had convinced the courts to allow his cousin, who was also a lawyer and to visit him despite the fact he wasn't serving on his defense counsel.
[01:13:48] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[01:13:48] Mitchell Prothero: He had to be let in because he was a member of the bar.
[01:13:50] Jordan Harbinger: Got it. Okay.
[01:13:51] Mitchell Prothero: But really, you know, there're in the preliminary stages of the investigation, the question is whether or not she can continue to represent him and whether or not he gets a mistrial. Because like we're two-thirds of the way through the trial and his lawyer got thrown in jail.
[01:14:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. This is crazy. Is there any danger of this guy? Because he's dangerous dude, there's a lot of money. Another kingpin will either pop up, but I assume he wants to escape. Is there any worry about this? How feasible is any of that?
[01:14:16] Mitchell Prothero: They worry he'll try because he's really tried about everything. When he was talking to his cousin, one of the intercepted conversations was him explaining where the three million was that he had saved to pay the mercenaries to break him out of prison. He had a rainy day fund for like what he thought was going to be like ex-SEAL Team Six or Spetsnaz guys like crashing a helicopter into the prison to rescue him. And as a result, you know, Dutch Special Forces had to sit on the top of the prison with stinger missiles because it's Ridouan Taghi.
[01:14:49] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:14:50] Mitchell Prothero: I mean, we can laugh at how preposterous it is because, on a level, it is preposterous, but if anybody was going to try that, it would be Ridouan Taghi. So you got to put the dudes up there. And this is why I joke, is in 2012, a Belgian gang might have stolen 200 kilos from another Belgian gang. It set off a completely inexplainable gang war that ended 10 years later with Dutch Special Forces on the roof of a prison with stinger missiles waiting for a helicopter.
[01:15:21] Jordan Harbinger: The cocaine market in Europe doesn't seem to be calming down anytime soon. And so I think we're going to hear more about this. What do you think?
[01:15:29] Mitchell Prothero: Well, what I'd say is part of why we're seeing such a heavy amount of drama is that in the past, it had been more spread out to different places. Right now, like it's industrial flow of cocaine coming through Antwerp and Rotterdam, Le Havre, even Hamburg a little bit, what I call the Northern ports. And so these are all controlled by the same gangs and the money is so incredible. The traffickers that I've spoken with, none of them are fans of Ridouan Taghi for drawing this much attention. Like they really could have gone without killing all the lawyers and the bloggers and just kept their mouth shut, you know, and kept working. And there's guys that are in Dubai that know they're going to get extradited to Belgium eventually. They're trying to stock away as much money as they can. You know, they're not trying to kill people if they don't have to. They know it's bad for business. Whereas Taghi was kind of special. He really did go Pablo, you know, where he thought he could intimidate the state into leaving him alone and it didn't work. But you know, there's a lot of people who resent that because a guy like me wouldn't come sniffing around their business if it wasn't for him. And I bumped into that a lot. You know, like, you're here because of Taghi, aren't you? You would've left me alone—
[01:16:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:16:42] Mitchell Prothero: —if it wasn't for this asshole.
[01:16:43] Jordan Harbinger: Right. No, true. You mentioned Dubai a few times. Why does Dubai have so many criminals in it? Not that the United States doesn't, I don't want to get 87 emails about that, but it seems like per capita, we're talking about a concentration of criminals here.
[01:16:57] Mitchell Prothero: Look, if you're wanted for a murder in Belgium and get called in the United States, it's not a question. You're going home for trial, man. There's extradition treaties, there's rule of law. Dubai doesn't really see it that way. They just don't really care. It's strange if you don't commit crimes in Dubai and you bring in lots of money and buy lots of apartments and invest things and pay for your visas and don't cause a huge stink, they're not going to extradite you. There's not treaties with Belgium and Holland. If the US wants you, they'll probably give you up, but it's got to have something to do with like terrorism.
[01:17:37] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:17:37] Mitchell Prothero: Or like Iran, like those are national security things to the Emiratis. So they take that pretty seriously. But like a cocaine trafficker from Antwerp, I mean they don't care and like they're the UAE, they're not really worried about Belgium being mad at them.
[01:17:55] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm. Yeah. It's interesting because the UAE is a police state, so it's a little counterintuitive that they don't care about crime.
[01:18:02] Mitchell Prothero: They care about crime in the UAE. Yeah.
[01:18:05] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah.
[01:18:05] Mitchell Prothero: And also like, let's face it, I mean, I don't want to disparage all of the UAE security forces. I'm sure they've got some innocent guys over there, but like when these drug cartel guys, whether it's the Kinahan or Taghi or you know, a handful of other people whose names I won't use that I know are there right now, you know, they're all eventually going to get killed or arrested and deported. Like they're not going to get away with this forever. And then, like the UAE security services are going to move into their apartments.
[01:18:34] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[01:18:34] Mitchell Prothero: And take over their investments. You know, one of our characters, Scarface, he owned a mall in Dubai. Well, he got murdered in Spain in 2014. I'm pretty sure the mall didn't get turned over to his family.
[01:18:48] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Okay. Yeah. Interesting.
[01:18:50] Mitchell Prothero: You're paying a high price to live there in a weird way.
[01:18:53] Jordan Harbinger: That is interesting.
[01:18:54] Mitchell Prothero: And if you run out of money, you're done. The reason why they're not extraditing you is your paying.
[01:19:00] Jordan Harbinger: Got it. Okay. So you're essentially paying an extortion to be protected by the state from another state so you can continue generating revenue from your criminal activity as long as there's no victims in Dubai who cares, or UAE.
[01:19:13] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah. And the second you can't deliver any longer, they'll send you back to Belgium and take all your stuff.
[01:19:17] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So it's not a life I'd want to live, man. What do you think?
[01:19:21] Mitchell Prothero: It's really not cool, man. Like this is one of the things I keep telling people is like, it's really not a fun business. Most people don't get up there. Like the only person I've ever met who's actually legitimately content as a drug dealer is the Dutch guy I was telling you about who like does retail for a handful of clients. He can't really get caught. He's never really got a ton of drugs on him at any time. It's only going to be a year or two or whatever if he does get caught and his aspirations are so low in a weird way that he stays safe. Because I asked him, one of the things we'd encounter is what we call the 25,000 euro thing which is that a certain number of these guys, as we say, North Face jacket and scooter guy selling grams of cocaine, a lot of these guys are saving up 25,000. And the reason is so they can buy what we call a kilo from a container.
[01:20:12] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[01:20:12] Mitchell Prothero: And then they can like stomp that twice, sell three kilos retail, buy two kilos, stomp that, and then in two years they're living in Dubai, you know, by growing—
[01:20:24] Jordan Harbinger: Got it.
[01:20:25] Mitchell Prothero: —with this investment. So I jokingly said to this guy one time, "Are you saving up 25,000?" And he looked at me like I was the biggest idiot on earth and said, "Yes, because last year somebody stole my Ducati motorcycle and I want to buy a new one." And I was like, "So," and he was like, "No, man." And he was like, "The minute you start doing that, you have to start storing kilos. You have to start asking people to protect kilos. Now, people know you have kilos." He's like, "It gets out of control too fast."
[01:20:55] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting. Different game.
[01:20:57] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah. He's like, "It completely goes out of control. You end up having to be a murderer or something, you know? You're terrified somebody's going to kill you." He's like, "What I'm doing right now, nobody's going to kill me. Nobody's going to care. The cops aren't even looking."
[01:21:09] Jordan Harbinger: He's got a lifestyle business instead of a growth company. That's what it is.
[01:21:12] Mitchell Prothero: And my man goes to like Barbados and sh*t—
[01:21:15] For two weeks every summer and has a decent scooter and a nice car and a hot girlfriend.
[01:21:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Works five hours a week, plays Xbox all day.
[01:21:22] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah. I think it's like a little higher end than that. He's a grinder. He knows that if he goes a step above where he is entering the cocaine milieu, and that is a completely different freaking world compared to what he's doing. So, you know, that's like the one guy I met that I was like, all right, you kind of have to figured it out.
[01:21:39] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah. Do you have any suspicions about where the money goes? Does it go back to Morocco? Is there palatal estates being built there?
[01:21:47] Mitchell Prothero: What's going on? I think like shopping malls in Eastern Europe. I think beach resorts and Albania, Italy, and Morocco. Hotels infrastructure, I think it's everywhere. Particularly, I think the rebuilding of infrastructure in Eastern Europe in the early 2000s and the late '90s, right around the time the cocaine trade really kicked off, I think that was an amazing money laundering opportunity. Because infrastructure's really where you want to do it, you know, concrete jobs, there's a million different ways to pad figures and stuff. And then at the end of it, the cocaine cartel owns a mall, which is a viable asset.
[01:22:24] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. Yeah.
[01:22:25] Mitchell Prothero: So, you know, a lot of what we tracked in terms of money is like transfers from Dubai to a Panamanian holding company that then come back to Morocco and end up invested in like a major beach resort. I'm not going to throw a company name out for legal reasons, but it's legitimate. The biggest question I came out of this podcast with is when does money go from being legal to illegal or illegal to legal? Okay, there's cocaine in a container that's illegal. The guy who showed up with the half a million dollars to buy the cocaine, that money's illegal. You see where I'm going with this?
[01:23:01] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
[01:23:02] Mitchell Prothero: You sell the cocaine, that money's illegal. Okay, but what about a year from now when it ends up in a pizzeria in Dresden, at what point does it start being legal? Because eventually it's legal, it's salaries, it's pizza, it's real estate, it's this, it's that. So what's that line? And I would always ask law enforcement and analysts and stuff like that, and they'd all just shake their head. Europol joked that if I was going to ask questions like this, they were going to have to bring in a sociologist, a philosopher, and a statistician to help.
[01:23:34] Jordan Harbinger: Europol, so you're EU wide police agency.
[01:23:37] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah, exactly. It's not philosophical. When is the money legal and when it is illegal? And this is the problem with the integrated globalized economy is when you deregulate finance to the extent that we all have across the world, that line gets so blurred so quickly. There is no more cutoff where this is drug money and this is proper investment. Nobody seems to want to define it and I think that's because they like the money.
[01:24:04] Jordan Harbinger: If we follow the trail too far, we have to dismantle a hell of a lot of pizzerias.
[01:24:09] Mitchell Prothero: Also, the very best pizzerias.
[01:24:10] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, the very best ones.
[01:24:11] Mitchell Prothero: I mean let's face it, these are good pizzerias.
[01:24:15] Jordan Harbinger: There's this Iranian dissident story that seems, it's almost like a non-sequitur in the podcast, but it's really interesting. This guy is at a wedding in a or something like that, or a graduation party in a Facebook photo and gets murdered by the Iranian regime. What the hell is that? That's crazy.
[01:24:31] Mitchell Prothero: Okay, so Ali Motamed, as his name was when he was killed, It was actually a guy named Mohammad-Reza, who back in the late '70s, early '80s had been a revolutionary overthrowing the Shah and had basically was part of a group that had come into conflict with what we call the Islamic Revolution, the guys that are in charge of Iran now.
[01:24:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:24:51] Mitchell Prothero: So they were rebels together, and if you ever know anything about a rebellion, rebels always turn on each other when they win.
[01:24:57] Jordan Harbinger: For sure.
[01:24:58] Mitchell Prothero: And he's part of this organization called the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, MEK. And the MEK went violent. They'd been violent against the Shah. They went violent against the Islamic regime, and in one case had set off this bomb that had killed like 75 people in parliament. It crippled the current supreme leader of Iran, Khamenei. If you ever notice, he can't use his arm?
[01:25:21] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, did not notice that.
[01:25:22] Mitchell Prothero: He's crippled from an explosion. Yeah, in fact, he's made it to 79. Nobody thought he'd really make it very long because of injuries from that bombing were so terrible. 81 other people, I think 79 or 80 people were killed. And they were all like members of parliament. It was a really big deal. This bombing appalled everybody in Iran, not just supporters of the regime, but it was considered like an act of terrorism against the state. Even if you weren't a fan of the Islamic regime, it appalled all Iranians.
[01:25:50] Apparently, this guy was involved and had fled to the Netherlands. He was probably the bomber and had fled to the Netherlands and had been living under a fake identity while the Iranians had been combing the earth looking for him. He was working as electrician in a suburban neighborhood in Amsterdam. He never was on social media except for one photo at his son's graduation. Within a few weeks or a few months, you know, he gets shot dead and a friend of mine, Paul Vugts, who's this reporter for Het Parool. He's a phenomenal reporter in Amsterdam. He started looking into it because he just thought it was so weird that this, like Moroccan mafia, had killed this random Iranian electrician refugee guy. And it turns out he'd been living under a fake identity and had been hiding from the Iranian regime from all this time.
[01:26:37] So once, they busted open the phone of a couple of Moroccan mafia guys, they realized that it had been a hit and that it had been a hit from the Iranian government essentially. And that the Moroccans had no idea who he was and didn't care. It was like $30,000. Somebody paid him 30,000 euros to go kill a guy. And we even have Noffel, the guy who arranged it, he's in prison now for this hit only because they decrypted his phone after he was arrested. But he's like, "I don't even know what the guy did. I don't care." He like, "Just go shoot him in the head, man. It's 30,000 euros."
[01:27:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's a big contract.
[01:27:11] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah, it took a year for them to figure it out. And then, over time it came out and it turned into a bit of a scandal because. It was around the time the US and a lot of Europe was pushing for a nuclear deal with Iran. So this is 2015, 2016, that this is going on. And the Dutch government decided to just let it go with arresting the gunman. Like they got Noffel, they got the guys who did the shooting, case closed.
[01:27:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:27:37] Mitchell Prothero: And that's something that I learned a lot and which I found really interesting in Europe as opposed to some other parts of the world that I've done law enforcement is the Dutch and the Belgians have a tendency like if you get caught with a hundred kilos of cocaine, you're going to go to jail for like eight years.
[01:27:52] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:27:52] Mitchell Prothero: But nobody's going to ask you where you got the cocaine. There's not going to be a plea deal. Like you're not going to get to give up the guy who gave it to you and get a year.
[01:28:00] Jordan Harbinger: Got it. Okay.
[01:28:01] Mitchell Prothero: Whereas in the US, like you'd be like, we're going to give you 30 years unless you tell us who gave you the cocaine, then we'll let you out and pay you, or whatever. Like it's a completely different milieu, you know, in this regard. Like you can get caught with a gun, couple of million dollars, 50 kilos of cocaine and do like four years in Holland, probably like 12 in Belgium. Belgium's got stricter laws. But in the US, man, you get caught with a gun, five million dollars in cash and 90 kilos of cocaine, you're looking at like 30 unless you tell them where you got the money in the cocaine. And that's something they don't do. And one argument that they, the reason why they don't do it is there's way less violence.
[01:28:40] Jordan Harbinger: Because people don't try to keep you quiet by killing you.
[01:28:42] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah. They know you're just going to do four years and get deported back to Albania, so you're not going to flip on them.
[01:28:48] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's not worth it. It's worth just staying in prison. Take their little payout.
[01:28:51] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah, man.
[01:28:52] Jordan Harbinger: And then go retire.
[01:28:53] Mitchell Prothero: Three years in a Dutch prison, just proves you could be trusted in the Serbian, Moroccan, or Albanian Mafia. You're just going to come out to a promotion.
[01:29:01] Jordan Harbinger: That makes sense.
[01:29:02] Mitchell Prothero: Yeah. It's just three years, man. And in a northern European prison, you're from Albania.
[01:29:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:29:07] Mitchell Prothero: Nobody's scared by that.
[01:29:09] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's probably better than where you grew up.
[01:29:11] Mitchell Prothero: You know, a lot of 16-year-old Moroccan kids will tell me, or a lot of 16-year-old kids from Rotterdam, not just Moroccans will tell me that when they do get arrested for occasionally busting into seal the kilos and it's supposed to be $150 fine. Sometimes, they'll get locked up for like three weeks or something like that. They're like, it's fun.
[01:29:28] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:29:29] Mitchell Prothero: You get cable TV, you hang out with your friends, play pool.
[01:29:32] Jordan Harbinger: Huh? Not a good deterrent, man. One thing that, the question that I had when I heard this that I just can't let go. They found this Iranian guy, because there's a Facebook photo of him, they must have suspected where he lived or where he was or had some other leads. Unless Iran is literally scanning every photo on Facebook with facial recognition technology to find people that they haven't seen in a long time. And if they're doing that, They have the technology to find, okay, this guy, 30 years ago, he did this. This is what he looks like. Now, here's the photo of him. That's extremely troubling technology. Is that how they found him? Do we know?
[01:30:08] Mitchell Prothero: No, we don't know exactly how they found him, but let's just be completely realistic. They're a nation-state.
[01:30:14] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:30:14] Mitchell Prothero: And this was a serious person they wanted. This wasn't just some guy. So facial recognition stuff, I don't know. Basically, my guess would be that Iranian operatives in European countries are tasked with following major people's Facebook pages and scanning, stuff like that, just to keep an eye on the diaspora. I know they spy on the diaspora. I've been dealing with the Iranians for 15 years. So they're really aggressive intelligence service and they've got people who work for them. I mean, the first secretary from the embassy in Vienna just had to be swapped by Belgium for a Belgian aid worker. Because the Iranian diplomat was in the process of setting off a bomb in Paris when they caught it.
[01:30:59] Jordan Harbinger: Phew.
[01:30:59] Mitchell Prothero: Like, you know, but everybody's got these types of guys in their embassies that are working as spooks. So the Iranians are very aggressive on this. It would be easy to dismiss how big a deal some guy we've never heard of, you know, Ali Motamed, he's a really big deal. I'd recognized his name just from my years of working in the Middle East. When I first saw it, I was like, oh, they got him. So this is a dude that they were looking for. It's not quite on the Osama bin Laden level, but as you can imagine, like if Osama bin Laden or you know, whatever, posted one picture on Facebook at his son's graduation—
[01:31:31] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:31:31] Mitchell Prothero: —if a nation-state was really looking for him, that might get them there.
[01:31:36] Jordan Harbinger: It's kind of like how they found El Chapo, right? Wasn't it they followed a couple of actresses and/or Sean Penn led them to him?
[01:31:45] Mitchell Prothero: I don't know. I mean, I've heard a lot of stories about that. I don't want to speculate on that one.
[01:31:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah, sure.
[01:31:50] Mitchell Prothero: But like, people underestimate how powerful countries are when they do stuff like that.
[01:31:55] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:31:55] Mitchell Prothero: Because they can really like dedicate a hundred people to it. You know, that's the thing that you forget. Like you think, is it three hackers in a room, man, it's the Iranian intelligence service. They could put 150 guys in a room looking at Facebook all day on everybody's page in Holland if they want.
[01:32:10] Jordan Harbinger: That's true.
[01:32:11] Mitchell Prothero: And not even be hard. It's not, you know, like, so when you start going up against nation-states with their resources, when they're truly committed, what I always tell the paranoid people who think that the government's always spying on them or whatever, it's like Google's spying on you, what have you really done today to justify overtime for a bureaucrat to spy on you. It's just not worth it. But in the case of somebody who had maimed the Supreme Leader, who'd killed the Prime Minister at the time, did one of the worst terror attacks in Iranian history, you know, they were going to be really, really looking for him. The Iranians also have a long history of hunting down dissidents and killing them in Europe. So this is an area where they've had success doing it in the past, but that's a whole nother podcast.
[01:32:54] Jordan Harbinger: Mitchell Prothero, thank you so much, man. This is really interesting. Gateway will link it in the show notes, great podcast. I bing the whole thing and I highly recommend it.
[01:33:03] Mitchell Prothero: It's really been a pleasure. Thanks for having me on. I just want to say like, you know, everybody, listen, we spend a lot of time on it.
[01:33:09] Jordan Harbinger: The bottom line, I recommend the podcast. Thank you very much. I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before we get into that, here's what you should check out next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:33:20] Beau Lotto: There is a world out there, but we don't see it as it is. So this isn't philosophy. This is just laws of physics. So if a tree falls in the woods, no one's there to hear, it doesn't make a sound. No, it creates energy, but the sound is a construct of your brain. So the tree exists, the energy exists, but your brain then turns that into something useful, which is sound. Light, all the light that's coming around us, right? It's bouncing off objects and then it's changing when it's an object and then it comes to our eyes, right? But our retina has no access to the light directly nor to the surfaces. All it literally has access to is energy, and that's where your brain is actually constructing a meaning. And it's that meaning that you're seeing, you're not seeing the energy, you're detecting the energy, but you're not seeing it. Language is not a construct of the world. Think about perceptions of pain. Is pain an illusion? Of course, it's not an illusion. It's a meaningful perception, but it's not something that exists in the world. There aren't painful things in the world.
[01:34:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:34:19] Beau Lotto: If we weren't here, pain would not exist. We can't hear the five sounds of A, that people in Scandinavia use, for instance.
[01:34:28] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Right.
[01:34:28] Beau Lotto: We can't see certain shades of red that Russians can see.
[01:34:31] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[01:34:31] Beau Lotto: Yeah. And it's only when you have awareness of why you're doing what you're doing that creates the possibility of doing it differently. Now, of course, if you don't have eyes, you can't choose to see, you still have to function in a world that has gravity, right? That has light. But we have more freedom than we think we do. We have more agency than we think we do. So the world is always changing and complexifying, and we need to complexify with it, and we never could if we always just see it as it really is.
[01:35:02] Jordan Harbinger: For more about how our brains produce vision and the constructs our brain makes to build our world, check out episode 177 with Beau Lotto here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:35:15] All right. Before I forget, Gateway podcast is the podcast from Project Brazen that Mitch runs really interesting details about the crimes and the violence and the cocaine smuggling and the ins and outs of the cocaine business in Europe and the scale of the market. It's really something I'm shocked by that. Many of you are surprised about what you learned on this episode as well. I mean, it's just, it did not see that coming. And the violence is so much worse than what we discussed as well. There's murders back in Morocco because of scores being settled from Europe. Some are botched, they get the wrong guy. Europe really looks like pre-mafia United States. The polite society that they have, they're just not accustomed to this level of violence. It's shocking. It's here hereto for unheard of. How they're going to deal with this is, it's going to be interesting. I mean, you're really meeting some very uncivilized drug cartel-type people being dropped into the middle of really safe and advanced civilized company. It's going to be, man, it's going to be quite a clash, especially over there in the Netherlands, which is traditionally very soft on crime. Criminals fight to stay there when they're in prison because they don't want to get extradited to the US, to Canada, to Morocco, to Albania. They want to stay in the Netherlands, chill, watch TV, get a college education, workout. God knows what you can do there. And then they can operate rather freely inside and outside of prison. It's just, they're going to have to figure this out, man. They can only scan two percent if that of containers daily. So 98 percent of the drugs or whatever are getting through, and that is a battle they can't win. So we'll have to see what happens.
[01:36:49] Again, check out the Gateway podcast. All things Mitch Prothero will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. You can also ask the AI chatbot. Transcripts in the show notes as well.
[01:36:57] Once again, a reminder that the Stitcher app will no longer work for any podcasts as of August 29th, 2023. So if you're using the Stitcher app, time to switch. If you're on Android, Podcast Addict is a good one, Castbox. And if you're on iOS, I suggest Overcast or Apple Podcasts. The Stitcher app is going away, folks.
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[01:37:46] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. If you know somebody who's interested in the cocaine market of Europe or lives over there and might not know about this problem, definitely share this episode with him. In the meantime, I hope you apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you learn, and we'll see you next time.
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