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Dutch crime boss Holleeder gets life in prison

July 4, 2019

The sisters of Dutch crime lord Willem Holleeder played a key role in securing a conviction against him for multiple murders. The 61-year-old Holleeder is best known for kidnapping Freddy Heineken decades earlier.

Willem Holleeder in 2014
Image: picture-alliance/ANP/R. van Lonkhuijsen

An Amsterdam court sentenced celebrity gangster Willem Holleeder to life in prison on Thursday, after finding him guilty of ordering several murders during the process dubbed the "trial of the century" by the Dutch media. One of the hits targeted his brother-in-law Cor van Hout.

Judge Frank Wieland described Holleeder as the "kingpin" of his crime organization.

"You think you have the right to decide matters of life and death with indifference and you have no conscience," the judge said, addressing the defendant.

The sentencing was done in a special high-security courtroom known as "De Bunker" of the Amsterdam court building. Relatives of the victims cheered and applauded upon hearing the decision.

Holleeder's lawyers pledged to appeal the verdict. After the sentencing, he decried an "unprecedented media campaign" against him.

"I didn't give the order for liquidations and there's no evidence I did," Holleeder said in a written statement.

Sisters make secret recordings

Holleeder has maintained his innocence during the trial, describing himself as a family man and a mere "small-time thug."

He was found guilty of ordering five murders and one manslaughter between 2002 and 2006. One of them was the 2003 killing of his longtime associate Cor van Hout, who was at the time married to Holleeder's sister Sonja.

The murder prompted Holleeder's two sisters, Sonja and Astrid, to cooperate with the authorities. They have provided the court with key evidence against Holleeder, including secret recordings in which he is heard threatening to kill Sonja and her children.

The crime boss is also accused of ordering the killing of his sisters from prison after they testified against him. The plot was foiled when another prisoner alerted the authorities. Both of the sisters are now in hiding.

Security personnel leaving the Amsterdam court
The trial and sentencing were held under heavy securityImage: picture-alliance/ANP/R. D. Waal

Kidnapping a beer baron

The 61-year-old Holleeder, nicknamed "The Nose," first grabbed international attention when he and Cor van Hout kidnapped beer tycoon Freddy Heineken in 1983. They kept the Dutch businessman in chains for three weeks until a ransom of 35 million guilders (€15.8 million, $18 million in today's money) was paid.

Read more: US gangster 'Whitey' Bulger dies in prison

Heineken survived the ordeal and was freed. Holleeder and Van Hout fled to France, where they were eventually arrested and sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1987. Both of them were released five years later. Most of the ransom money was never recovered. The events of the crime were shown in a 2015 movie dubbed "Kidnapping Freddy Heineken," with UK star Anthony Hopkins taking on the title role and Australian actor Sam Worthington playing Holleeder.

Authorities believe Holleeder used the ransom money to build his criminal empire by investing in the drug and sex trades. He has been in and out of prison for other crimes following the Heineken kidnapping.

He has also built a public profile in the Netherlands, appearing on television and posing for selfies with fans in Amsterdam.

dj/ng (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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