A Turkish-Iranian drug smuggling network that operated along a busy highway between the Turkish capital of Ankara and Istanbul had to change tactics and couriers in moving drugs from Afghanistan to customers in Europe, secret documents have revealed.
The network, identified by the police in Eskişehir, was forced to adopt new methods after it faced a crackdown on another route from Turkey’s eastern province of Van, situated on the Iranian border.
The intelligence document submitted to a judge as supporting evidence for a wiretap authorization for suspects in the network indicated that the drugs cultivated in Afghanistan were brought to Turkey from Iran. The end destination was cities in Europe, especially the Netherlands.
Under the new scheme, the traffickers started using foreign couriers instead of Turkish nationals and stashed drugs in trucks operated by cross-border logistics firms that carry goods to Europe.
The following Iranian nationals were identified as being involved in the drug trafficking: Amirhossain Fakooryekta (34), Aliriza Zakeripour (35), Seyedmohammadjavad Hosseinian (39), Mahdi Zangi (39), Nima Kordalipour Kojali (32) and Javid Jabari (34). According to an information note among the documents, Jabari was the leader of the drug smuggling network.
Their Turkish accomplices were listed as Mahiye Asik (63), Ali Hamaykaya (63), Can Albayrak (29), Gulumser Ezmek (52), Mehmet Fatih Kaya (32) and Mustafa Tolga Uyanik (32).
During the monitoring, the police intelligence unit also uncovered an alleged mole within the police department named Yunus Ordu, a 50-year-old police officer who was working in the ethics unit of the public security branch. He was suspected to be leaking information about police operations to the criminal network in advance. Several tips received by the police claimed that Ordu was working with the drug smugglers and using a burner phone to cover his tracks.
The surveillance of female traffickers and drug sellers in Eskişehir province showed that the members of the criminal network were talking about a possible police crackdown based on tips from the mole in the police department. The intelligence unit made an assessment that Ordu was likely the mole who was helping the drug traffickers evade the law.
The wiretap authorization request for the 11 suspects including a police officer was filed with a specially authorized judge in Bursa province on April 11, 2013 by police chief Mustafa Arık, who was the head of the intelligence unit in Eskişehir at the time. The request underlined that Turkey was both a transit and destination country for drug trafficking and that it was necessary to identify the network and operatives on the drug trafficking routes through Turkey in order for law enforcement to crack down on the traffickers.
Judge Mehmet Özyalçın of the Bursa 6th High Criminal Court ruled on the police intelligence request the same day it was filed, allowing the wiretap of the suspects for three months.
The crackdown on drug traffickers was halted when then Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched an unprecedented campaign of dismissals and purges within the police department in the aftermath of a December 2013 corruption investigation that incriminated him and his family members in an Iranian sanctions busting scheme. Many veteran police chiefs were dismissed and/or jailed on fabricated charges.
Police chief Arık was also among those who faced the wrath of the government for investigating the Turkish-Iranian drug smuggling group. The Interior Ministry, under orders from the pro-Iranian Erdoğan government, initiated an administrative investigation into him in May 2014 that later morphed into a criminal prosecution by the government on fabricated charges.
The suspected mole Ordu was listed as a victim by government prosecutor Tayfun Atak, who invited him to file a complaint against Arık on July 3, 2014. The police chief and his team who ran the surveillance and obtained the wiretap authorization were charged with privacy violations, falsifying documents and illegal wiretapping when everything was in fact in compliance with the laws and regulations and reviewed by a judge.
Arık responded to Ordu’s complaint on March 2, 2015 in a deposition in the prosecutor’s office, confirming that Ordu was suspected to be a mole in the police department based on the assessment made by the department. He also added that the department had received information from whistleblowers whose information supported the allegations against Ordu. Yet Arık was detained in January 2015 on fabricated charges and has been in jail ever since. He was convicted and sentenced to serve 49 years, four months and 15 days in prison at the end of sham trial that was concluded in February 2018.
The mass purge has mainly impacted the intelligence, counterterrorism and narcotics units in the police department, with almost the entire team of veteran intelligence chiefs in every province summarily removed by the government. Erdoğan brought in Süleyman Soylu as interior minister, the country’s top security bureaucrat who runs the police department. Soylu is suspected of being Turkey’s top drug kingpin, organizing the trafficking of narcotics in cooperation with several mafia groups, using state officials as his henchmen and couriers.
Turkey has also become an emerging route for large-scale cocaine trafficking, an unprecedented development, and it is alleged that a politically connected, powerful new player may have appeared on the scene to move large quantities of the drug through Turkish seaports.
Turkish police cooperation scheme with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) took a serious hit after Turkey arrested and jailed Metin Topuz, a long-time translator at the US Consulate General in Istanbul later an assistant with the DEA, and helped built a sham case to convict him on fabricated charges of terrorism in June 2020. The pro-government media ran smear campaigns against DEA agents who were vilified in what appeared to be a government-run campaign to target US officials.