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Quincy Promes and how Amsterdam’s criminal underworld preys on footballers
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Quincy Promes and how Amsterdam’s criminal underworld preys on footballers

Quincy Promes and how Amsterdam’s criminal underworld preys on footballers

When Marylio V was escorted from his cell in Amsterdam’s district court on October 31, his alleged accomplice in a drugs bust involving 1,363kg (3,005lbs) of cocaine with a street value estimated at £65million ($82m) was nowhere to be seen.

There was no expectation, however, that Quincy Promes, a Dutch international footballer with 50 caps, would show up.

He did not appear at his previous criminal case either. That was in June 2023, when he was found guilty of stabbing his cousin in the knee at a family party where, the court heard, “the Hennessy flowed freely.”

The 18-month sentence for that offence is yet to start because Promes, 31, has remained out of reach of the Dutch justice system, having stayed in Russia throughout the trial, playing for Spartak Moscow.

Separately, according to the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, Marylio V and Promes had arranged to smuggle two shipments of cocaine into the Belgian port of Antwerp via the Cap San Nicolas container vessel in January 2020. 

The first batch, hidden in sacks of salt, which involved 650 blocks of cocaine, has never been found. The second batch had a logo of a tiger stamped on it and weighed in at 712kgs after being intercepted by Belgian police.

Ahead of the full case, which is due to start in January 2024, Marylio V failed in his attempt to achieve bail, having revealed in court that he plans, without implicating Promes, to admit his guilt of a “small role” that the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) claims was, in fact, much bigger.

Among the judge’s considerations in this appeal was the defendant’s criminal record. Marylio V had already been sentenced to four years in prison in Belgium for importing 882kgs of cocaine on May 27, 2019.

Quincy Promes, right, playing for the Netherlands in 2014 (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

He became the focus of another major investigation which took the code name “Porto” and centred on Promes’ suspected involvement in “the full cocaine trade”. It followed tip-offs in 2018 and 2019 that led officers to analyse encrypted correspondence involving BlackBerry mobile phones and EncroChat.

It was during this investigation that officers heard Promes discussing stabbing his cousin. “Where did I hit him?” he asked a family member shortly after the incident, according to taped conversations. 

When he discovered that he’d hit his cousin in the leg, Promes thought it was lucky. “I didn’t aim at his leg at all, I wanted to put it on his neck,” he said, before adding: “Next time he will get bullets.” And to his father, who intervened, he suggested: “You saved his life. Otherwise, I’ll kill him. You understand that, don’t you?”

Though Promes was originally charged with attempted murder, it was downgraded to aggravated assault after the player’s lawyer argued that the evidence was not admissible as the warrant to tap his phone was originally issued due to an interest in his alleged “unrelated” drug offences.

At a separate pre-trial hearing last summer, the court heard how Promes and Marylio V allegedly tried to import the cocaine into Europe in January 2020.

On February 25, 2020, the PPS claimed that Promes informed other conspirators that “my previous delivery was a half failure. They came in two trays, one fell, one got jammed, so my whole profit was halved.” 

Promes speaks to media at a Dutch training camp in 2014 (Koen van Weel/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

In the subsequent message traffic, prosecutors say that Promes confirmed he had paid part of the purchase price for the cocaine by writing, “My boys are on their way to Antwerp,” where couriers were directed to a shisha lounge. 

What followed was picture evidence, allegedly at the door of a warehouse, showing the trailer carrying one of the containers and the cocaine inside. When the cargo was moved by truck to Verrebroek, 20km north west of Antwerp, Promes is said to have encouraged the men. 

“Keep us informed,” he is accused of saying. “Get to work, boys.”

Never before has a Dutch footballer with the stature of Promes been charged with such serious offences. Yet an examination of the court hearings involving him is a reminder of the potential for overlap between the worlds of footballers and criminality in the Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular.

Generally speaking, Amsterdam is a safe place. While Catania in Italy tops the European crime index, closely followed by Marseille in France, Birmingham and Coventry in England and Charleroi in Belgium, Amsterdam sits way down in 94th place.

In the deal that brought him to the attention of the law, the Dutch justice department believes Promes, who was born and raised in Amsterdam, invested €200,000 into the drug trade. In that deal, it was alleged that the convicted drug trafficker Piet Wortel and another well-known trafficker “earned €6million”.

At the start of 2023, the PPS claimed Promes had paid a substantial fine to Wortel for a batch of drugs that was stolen by a rival gang. 

According to the PPS file, Wortel was also suspected of being behind the 2019 murder of former professional footballer, Kelvin Maynard, who was shot multiple times in front of a fire station in south-east Amsterdam, allegedly in revenge for the theft of 400kgs of cocaine.

Both Promes and Wortel denied these allegations. While Promes’ lawyer described the suggestion his client had paid Wortel as “total nonsense,” Wortel’s representative insisted there was little evidence against his client over Maynard’s death, calling the claims “gossip and backbiting.”

The PPS acknowledged in January 2023 that it still had “no round case” against Wortel, and two months later he was released from detention over these charges.

It leaves the murder of Maynard as an unsolved case. In 2019, his death received national attention, not necessarily because he was a footballer but because of the reaction of firefighters who were condemned for taking photographs of paramedics trying, in vain, to resuscitate him. These images were distributed amongst friends before finding their way onto social media.

Kelvin Maynard, playing here for Burton Albion, was murdered in 2019 (David Rogers/Getty Images)

Unlike Promes, Maynard’s career was unremarkable. He played top-flight football in the Netherlands but not for any of the leading clubs, before heading to Royal Antwerp in 2013. There he met Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the former Chelsea and Netherlands striker who is now working with the England national team. Hasselbaink took Maynard to English lower-league club Burton Albion in 2014 when he began the first of his two spells as manager there.

One of his former team-mates at Burton, who would prefer not to be named due to sensitivities around the manner of his death, remembers Maynard fondly because of his work ethic. He always seemed to be at the front of the running sessions, was smiley and sociable. He thinks he worked as a DJ in his spare time. Maynard seemed, “a really nice guy — you’d never imagine he’d get himself involved in anything like that.”

According to reports at the time of Maynard’s shooting, he spent his last afternoon at a flat in the south east of the city. After bringing his wife and youngest child home, he returned to Zuidoost before parking his grey Volkswagen Golf near a metro station, where he met a group of Surinamese men wearing Nike tracksuits, who drove off in a dark blue Volkswagen Polo. 

He was followed on a black scooter by two men, and when he stopped at a red light, they approached from the side before firing several rounds at him from close range. Though he tried to accelerate away, he met his end in the forecourt of the fire station before the images of that moment went viral.

The fire station where Maynard died in 2019 (Sem van der Wal/AFP via Getty Images)

His family suggested that he was a youth worker who had almost completed his college education. Yet a detailed report in the Het Parool newspaper a day after the shooting suggested Maynard and his friends, which included Genciel ‘Genna’ Feller, who was murdered just over a fortnight earlier in Curacao, had recently bought “plenty of very expensive things, including luxury cars. Maynard posed in a photo with an oversized wad of banknotes.”

The author of that article was crime reporter Paul Vugts. In 2013, Vugts covered another story which helped explain why the interests of footballers and criminals merge. “Occasionally, players unintentionally become involved in criminal issues that they would rather have stayed out of, but sometimes they consciously work together,” he wrote.

He suggested that in Amsterdam, a world-famous former footballer had been spotted several times by the city’s police department socialising in an underworld figure’s entourage, specifically at a martial arts gala. Meanwhile, criminals from Amsterdam’s diamond district would regularly drive around the city in the Porsche sports car of a Dutch international. It was thought that the footballer and at least one of the criminals had jointly invested in a gym as well as the catering industry.

It is not always the player’s fault. The mother of Patrick Kluivert’s sons, for example, started a relationship with an Amsterdam criminal and the couple were convicted in a money laundering and extortion trial where details about Kluivert’s relationship with his family were revealed.

When, in 2013, an argument started between members of two rival gangs at a party in Amsterdam’s maritime museum, a security guard suggested he had seen Denny Landzaat, another former Dutch international whose career took him to the Premier League with Wigan Athletic, trying to calm the situation. 

Landzaat was caught up in an altercation between Amsterdam gangs (Erik van ‘t Woud/AFP via Getty Images)

Landzaat denied this claim. What is undeniable is that, moments later, one of the men was shot dead. It was believed that Dwight Tiendalli – then contracted to Swansea City – along with his brother, Wensley, was in the company of the victim that night. Witnesses told police that Wensley was seen taking a gold watch from the victim’s wrist after the shooting. He was later arrested because of the “large amount of bills” found on his person but the case was dismissed, only after Wensley had told police that he was the “cash holder” that evening. He denied taking the watch.

Dwight, meanwhile, told investigators that he “only shook hands” with the victim of the attack, and then saw little of him at the table until Wensley came to report that someone had been shot.

It was established he had nothing to do with the underworld feud. One of the men behind the shooting, however, was thought to be a close confidant of Gwenette Martha, a gangster from the De Pijp area of the city, who himself was executed in 2014. 

It is believed that Martha was a junior footballer at a professional club before he became a professional criminal. A year after his death, detectives in Amsterdam discovered that someone connected to the criminal was driving a car rented to an Ajax youth player, who had gotten into a fight in the centre of Amsterdam. This led to an attack in Zuidoost where the bullets lodged in the back of the driver’s seat.  

The finding led to the now-retired detectives, Arno van Leeuwen and Bob Schagen, working with Ajax in an attempt to educate the club’s young players about the dangers of being drawn into criminality.

They still use the photos of the car that was shot at in presentations to youth players, where they point out that even sometimes innocent contacts and favours can have unforeseen but significant consequences.

Which brings us back to Promes. In 2012, he described himself as “a street rat… if everyone else went left, I went right”. Though Promes then insisted he was not a criminal, he described his childhood in an interview on Ajax’s website after re-signing for the club for €17.2million in 2019 as “moving from neighbourhood to neighbourhood” with his mother after she divorced from his father, where he made “new and bad friends and ended up in a kind of tornado.” His previous spell at Ajax had ended due to behavioural problems. 

At Ajax, Promes was warned about the company he kept by Van Leeuwen and Schagen, who sat down to talk to him twice. 

On the first occasion, it was after he was seen with the rapper JoeyAK, a rapper from the Bijlmer rap group Zone 6, which has been linked with gun crime and the international cocaine trade.

Promes playing for Ajax against Liverpool in 2020 (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

The second time, it was because of his friendship with a half-brother of the gangster rapper, Jason L, who has since been sentenced in prison for 18 years for murder.

The pleas to reconsider who he was associating with do not appear to have sunk in, which helps explain why Promes is a wanted man in the Netherlands.

He is protected from justice as he is living in Moscow, where he plays for one of his former clubs, Spartak, as Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the Netherlands. His transfer was completed two months after he was arrested for stabbing his cousin in December 2020.

Though he was selected by Frank de Boer for the Dutch squad that competed in the European Championships in the summer of 2021, he lost his place under the next coach, Louis van Gaal, who did not want to select “players involved in such matters”.

Promes has since become the highest-scoring foreigner in Russian football history, overtaking Brazilian Vagner Love and Iranian Sardar Azmoun.

Yet this achievement has not earned him a recall to the national team under current coach Ronald Koeman, who this month secured qualification for next summer’s European Championship in Germany.

Quincy Promes celebrates winning the Russian Cup final in 2022 (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

That is because the next time Promes sets foot in the Netherlands, he is likely to be arrested again.

In his absence, all official communication has come through the player’s lawyer, Robert Malewicz, who has denied his client’s involvement in the stabbing and drug trafficking and appealed for the charges for which he has already been convicted overturned.

When The Athletic approached Malewicz for direct comment from the footballer about the accusations he is facing, he replied by stating that Promes will not talk to the media, “at least, not until we go to court in the Netherlands”.

This might suggest that he plans to try and clear his name in person. He rejected the chance to offer guidance and when he was asked specifically to clarify whether Promes would return to the country where he was born, Malewicz added: “I cannot comment on that.”

What is known is that Promes remained in Russia during last summer’s off-season, visiting the Sochi region where he hired a helicopter to fly above a waterfall. He also missed Spartak’s 2022 winter training camp in the United Arab Emirates, which had recently signed a new extradition treaty with the Netherlands, partly to crack down on those accused of drug offences. At the time, Malewicz suggested Promes was “just not quite fit” and was instead training alone back in Moscow.

Inside Russia, Promes has not attempted to hide. His social media accounts remain open and he appears to be enjoying himself. Perhaps it helps Promes that he is naturally an expressive sort of person, who on Instagram, at least, has always tried to show that he is happy. 

Aside from being a footballer, he has business interests in a clothing brand called Mask QP, while he has also performed as a rapper, releasing a song earlier this year called “Liars”, where he seemed to refer to his innocence. “It started as a lie, people want to talk but I still have my memory,” he sings.

Promes, whose family’s roots are in Suriname, produces its national flag in one of his videos, as well as the Russian one — but not that of the Netherlands, even though he sings in Dutch and English. 

While some Russians have seen this as his way of showing gratitude to the country, others have, albeit quietly, asked whether he is manipulating a grave political situation of global significance for his own ends.

Undoubtedly, the war in Ukraine, which has led to the ban of Russian teams from European competition, has helped protect Promes because his status as a wanted man has not been tested beyond Russia’s borders.

Promes had invested in a Moscow nightclub called the Black Star Lounge before it was sold. Even before returning to Spartak for a second spell after being spirited out of Ajax, he had seemingly adjusted culturally to a country where foreign players sometimes struggle because of the language and the weather.

Being at Spartak, Promes plays for the most popular club in the country and this translates into personal popularity, boosted by his public statements that European media claims that racial prejudice is rife in Russia are “sensationalised”. 

Despite the scale of the charges against him, any focus in the case against Promes has not really gathered pace outside the Netherlands. That, perhaps, is partly because he has played 233 of his 434 club career games in Russia, which even in a time of peace, is a country that lies on the hinterland of wider European football interest.

It might have been different had he left Twente in 2014 for a big club in western Europe. At that time, he felt pushed out because of the club’s perilous financial position. He did not want to go to Moscow or play in the Russian league, but the deal offered the best solution for everyone. 

Nearly a decade later, and if you only followed Russian coverage of the matter, you would barely know that Promes is even facing charges. Since 2020, Spartak have released just one statement on the subject, with the club’s website suggesting earlier this year — after he was found guilty of aggravated assault — that the court decision was not final until the appeal process was finished.

A Russian journalist, who would prefer to remain anonymous due to restrictions on press freedoms in the country, suggests Promes has been allowed to live as he pleases because of the conflict with Ukraine, which has resulted in Russia becoming a pariah in the west.

He describes Promes as “someone who is more connected to us than them”. 

During his first spell in Moscow, Promes lived alone on one of the highest floors of a tower block in the centre of the capital but, this time, he is supposedly with his family, residing on the outskirts of the city in a compound.

At weekends, when he is not scoring goals for Spartak, he sometimes watches one of his sons play for a junior team, and the only bother he gets is the adulation of those who want to congratulate him for his achievements at the country’s most famous club.

If he is concerned about what he is being accused of back home, he hides it well.

(Top photo: AFP via Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)