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The Underworld Map

Debts, drugs, at-risk youth: these municipalities are the most vulnerable to serious criminals

Beeld © ANP/RTL Nieuws

Municipalities in South Limburg run the greatest risk of falling under the grip of organized crime. This is evident from the Underworld Map, a study by RTL Nieuws into so-called subversive crime in the Netherlands. Rotterdam, The Hague and Arnhem are also vulnerable. The map shows how your own municipality scores.

Drugs and weapons are never far away in Heerlen. In the first ten months of this year, the police counted 131 cases of drug trafficking and 48 cases of arms trafficking. But organized crime also grips the former mining town in another, more invisible, way. Heerlen appears to be extremely vulnerable to criminals in many areas.

For example, almost five percent of all Heerlen properties are owned by a convicted owner, 1 in 15 young people run an increased risk of ending up in drug crime and 1 in 8 households are struggling with problematic debts. This puts Heerlen at number one in the Underworld Map 2022, a study by RTL Nieuws into the interdependence of the underworld and the upperworld in Dutch municipalities.

With the Underworld Map, the research editors of RTL Nieuws have for the first time investigated the vulnerabilities of municipalities, their inhabitants and companies to the influence of organized crime. Together with criminologists and experts in the field of subversion, 20 indicators have been selected that say something about the risk of subversion, such as vacancy or debt.

Invisibly big problem

"With the Underworld Map, we are trying to visualize a problem that is invisible to many people nationwide," says investigative journalist Koen Voskuil of RTL Nieuws. "We hope that this analysis will help residents and businesses to recognize signs of criminal undermining, and that municipalities will better see where they stand." 

According to Pieter Tops, professor by special appointment of subversion studies at Leiden University, the analysis by RTL Niews provides insight into where municipalities are vulnerable. "It can be a tool to determine where they should be especially active to counteract phenomena of undermining." It is important that the fight against criminal subversion is high on the agenda, adds criminologist Henk Ferwerda of Bureau Beke. "This is one of the major problems of our time. Drug crime is internationalizing, hardening and involving billions of euros. That money is taking hold of our society."

Criminal subversion occurs in many ways. In the video below (in Dutch) you can see how you can recognize signals in your own neighborhood: 

Criminal subversion: this is how the underworld tries to get a grip on your neighbourhood

In this video we show how criminal subversion can occur in your area

Problems after mine closure

Mayor Roel Wever van Heerlen calls it a 'pity' that his city is in first place, but he is not surprised. "We are on the border here, which allows criminals to go back and forth. And we have major social problems that are still the result of the mine closure. The third generation of unemployed, then you get these kinds of difficulties ."

Rotterdam is the highest of the major cities. The Maasstad can be found in 3rd place. This year, Rotterdam was startled by a series of shootings and explosions in the criminal environment. Sources reported to RTL Niews that it revolved around disputes about drug parties. The underworld thus created danger for innocent civilians.  

Cry for help Limburg

It is striking that, in addition to Heerlen, three more municipalities in South Limburg appear in the top ten: Kerkrade (2), Sittard-Geleen (7) and Brunssum (9). Roermond is also in the top 10. The Limburg governor Emile Roemer is very concerned and makes an urgent appeal to the minister. According to Roemer, there is not enough manpower to deal with criminals.

"With 80,000 unguarded border crossings, it is very easy to organize subversion here and also to leave very quickly without being caught. The police must be involved, the judiciary must be strengthened, the criminal investigation must be strengthened. Otherwise we can't tackle this. Limburg can't do this alone."

Money laundering and recruiting

As an important transit country for drugs, billions of euros are spent in the criminal circuit in the Netherlands, which is therefore gaining more and more control over society. Consider, for example, cannabis farms that pose a fire hazard, young people who are recruited for criminal jobs or shops that launder money and thus drive honest entrepreneurs out of shopping streets. We call these effects criminal subversion. The risks of this are measured in the Underworld map. 

The research shows that there are differences between undermining in cities and in rural areas. Certain signals of subversion, such as the trade in arms and vulnerable young people, are seen more often in cities, while drug suspects in smaller municipalities are more often related to each other.


The Underworld Map puts all Dutch municipalities against the yardstick of vulnerability to criminal undermining. The research editors of RTL Nieuws measured this vulnerability on the basis of twenty indicators, which were selected with the help of criminologists, crime experts and data scientists.

For this, use was made of data from the government platform Zicht op Ondermijning, the Police, the Financial Intelligence Unit, Statistics Netherlands, Meld Misdaad Anoniem, Graydon and the Leefbaarometer. Here we answer five questions about the research and in this document (pdf) you will find an extensive justification.