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This soccer star has been handed a six-year prison sentence in absentia for trafficking cocaine. He’s still playing

By Amy Woodyatt, CNN

(CNN) — He’s seemingly led an extraordinary double life. Quincy Promes is a successful soccer star, playing as forward with major European clubs Ajax and Sevilla and now Spartak Moscow, as well as representing the Netherlands at the international level.

Promes played 50 times for the Netherlands and, according to the respected website Transfermarkt, at one point in his career had a transfer value of $26 million.

Away from the pitch, Promes has recently been convicted for drug trafficking by an Amsterdam court. His conviction comes against the backdrop of the Netherlands’ wider war on drugs.

Earlier this month, Dutch prosecutors successfully argued that Promes was central to a drug trafficking operation involved in smuggling some 1,360 kilograms of cocaine from Brazil to the Netherlands through the port of Antwerp in Belgium in 2020, in two separate incidents. 

“It is particularly bad that the suspect [Promes] normalizes and almost romanticizes the large-scale cocaine trade,” said Dutch prosecutors.

“The suspect profiles himself that way to the outside world, while he is an example for young people who look up to him,” the prosecutors added.

Promes was convicted in absentia to six years in prison for drug trafficking. It’s a sentence he won’t serve any time soon given given he lives in Russia, playing for Russian Premier League side Spartak Moscow.

“The suspect maintained a managerial role and was a financier. He worked calculatedly, was careful and did not take too many risks. He did not get his own hands dirty. He let others do the dirty work,” said prosecutors earlier this month in the case.

Lawyers for Promes said he denied the charges, and would be appealing the sentence.

“We will further explain our grievances to the Court of Appeal during a yet to be scheduled public hearing,” said Promes’ lawyers in a statement.

“Finally, we would like to emphasize that as long as the judge’s verdict is not final, every suspect in the Netherlands must be presumed innocent. This also applies to Mr. Promes.”

Last year, Promes was convicted in absentia for stabbing his cousin in the knee, Reuters reported, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, according to prosecutors.

Promes’ contract with Spartak Moscow runs until the end of June 2024, according to Transfermarkt. The Russian club did not respond to CNN’s request for comment as to whether it will continue to play Promes in matches or extend his contract.

Criminologist Hans Nelen told CNN that Promes’ case is “remarkable … From the outside, many people are inclined to say: ‘He will earn millions of euros a year…. Why [is he] involved in the drug trade to begin with?’”

A professor of criminology at Maastricht University, Nelen says the general public’s reaction to Promes’ situation was one of frustration.

“That he’s out and he cannot be arrested and then he cannot be put in jail, and is still playing football,” he said.

According to Nelen, Promes posting photos on social media in expensive cars, wearing diamond encrusted jewelry and on luxury holidays to destinations like Dubai, isn’t a great look with the Dutch public.

“He’s still putting posts on social media, and he’s pretending that he is untouchable,” added Nelen.

CNN has contacted representatives for Promes, offering the soccer player the opportunity to comment on his recent court case, but hadn’t received a reply at the time of publication.

‘Criminal culture of violence’

Earlier this year, Femke Halsema, the mayor of Amsterdam, warned that Rotterdam – Europe’s largest port – has become a “global transit hub for cocaine,” with more than 22,000 kg of the drug seized in the first half of 2022 compared with 29,702 kg in the first half of 2023 in spite of authorities’ efforts to take on trafficking. Dutch Customs seized almost 60,000 kg of cocaine in 2023, the Dutch government reported.

Halsema, along with the mayor of Rotterdam, said that more must be done to address drug crime, warning in a 2022 letter to the House of Representatives of “a criminal culture of violence” gripping the country.

The country’s Multidisciplinary Intervention Team was rebranded that same year as the National Alliance against Subversive Crime (NASC), with its mission “to expose and untangle the financial and other interconnectedness of the underworld and mainstream society,” according to the Dutch government.

Concern over drug-related crime in the Netherlands has risen in recent years. In 2021, Dutch crime journalist Peter R. de Vries, known for his investigative work exposing the criminal underworld, was gunned down on a busy central Amsterdam street.

“We cannot deny that the drug trade and drug trafficking in general has become a huge issue during the last decade,” said Nelen, though the criminologist adds that “when you think about employment between the drug economy and the legitimate economy, corruption and political influences, I would say that’s rather limited.”

“It’s not such a case like Mexico or Columbia or to a certain extent Italy, that somehow our legitimate economy or political system has been completely infiltrated by criminals,” he explained.

Still, the Netherlands is a key destination for drug traffickers because it is home to several large ports and borders Germany and Belgium, so it’s a “gateway to Europe,” according to Nelen.

Though Promes’ conviction is certainly one of the highest-profile cases in the country in recent years, Nelen said that the Netherlands has seen other attention-grabbing cases of celebrities’ involvement in the illegal drugs trade, including martial arts professionals and kickboxers.

Dutchman David Endt, who has worked as a journalist and with Dutch clubs in organizational roles and is now a soccer agent, told CNN that he knew a very different Promes in the early stages of his soccer career.

“There was a very pleasant guy there, always – big laugh on his face, did nobody really any harm, and suddenly [he] came into a spiral and then it goes down and down,” said Endt, adding that he hasn’t had contact with Promes for more than 10 years.

“The problem with being instantly famous … It’s hard to make the right choices with so-called friends, you attract a lot of people who have bad intentions,” added Endt.

And Dutch soccer clubs seem to be taking notice.

“Some football clubs are now aware of this and using retired police officers or other coaches to talk to kids who are already 14, 15, 16 years old, who are very talented, to warn them of some of the dangers and some of the risks that may come across. So there are indeed preventative measures taken by some of the clubs,” Nelen adds.

Endt, who worked with Ajax in an organizational role for 20 years, told CNN: “After some incidents, smaller ones, bigger ones, we got help from police officers, who sometimes came to the club and they explained the problems young players, or maybe also older players can meet, especially in this social media world.”

CNN has reached out to Ajax for further comment.

The youth development system for soccer players in the Netherlands is impressive, according to Endt.

“There’s also always attention to be aware of your responsibilities not only to yourself, or your teammates, but also in view of the world around you, that you have to behave well, that a good player is also an example in life. But not everybody is following this, obviously.”

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