Turkey becomes key for drug trafficking to Europe, haven for Balkan cartels

Turkey becomes key for drug trafficking to Europe, haven for Balkan cartels

Η Τουρκία έχει καταστεί κόμβος για τη διακίνηση ναρκωτικών στην Ευρώπη και ασφαλές καταφύγιο για τα καρτέλ των Βαλκανίων

Turkey becomes key for drug trafficking to Europe, haven for Balkan cartels

Germany's 2021 organised crime report showed increasing crime rates and how Turks were highly involved in organised gang-related crimes. Turkey plays an important role as a transit country in drug smuggling, and due to this position, it has become a haven for western Balkan gangs, according to the report.

There has been a sharp increase of 17.2 percent in the number of investigations against criminal gangs in Germany in 2021, according to an official report. About half of the growing organised crime records were linked to drug trafficking, and Turkey and Turkish nationals played a critical role in drug smuggling to Europe, Deutsche Welle Turkish reported, citing Germany’s federal police and customs directorate.

The report, prepared by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), showed that 10.9 percent of suspected gang members in Germany were of Turkish origin. Of the more than 7,000 suspects linked to organised crimes in 2021, 818 were Turkish citizens, and 54 were ethnic Turks who hold German citizenship.

Cannabis made up 40 percent of all trafficked drugs, followed by cocaine (26.6 percent).

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the amount of cocaine seized in European countries, especially in the Netherlands and Spain, as well as in Germany.

The German Customs Directorate stated that although Turkey was not on the cocaine smuggling route to Europe from Central and South America and the Caribbean, the rate of Turkish involvement in crime was very high. According to the report, Turkey’s role in global cocaine trafficking is also increasing, with the country fast becoming a transit point.

The amount of cocaine seized by Turkish authorities nearly quintupled between 2014 and 2020, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

In police searches on 20 and 26 November 2021, a total of 111 kilos of black cocaine was found in two separate cargo packages in a German airport.

Subsequently, six individuals were taken into custody in Turkey, including Ali Osman Akat, the president of L’ACTONE Holding and the former chair of the Turkish-American Business Association.

In May 2020, Sedat Peker, Turkish mob boss-turned-whistleblower, spoke about an interrupted shipment of 4.9 tonnes of cocaine from Colombia to Turkey.

About a month later, Colombian authorities announced that they had seized the same amount of cocaine in the country’s Buenaventura port, reportedly headed to Istanbul. Peker pointed to former interior minister Mehmet Ağar as being involved in the smuggling.

In January 2022, 15 people were arrested in connection with the incident.

On 4 August 2021, Brazilian police discovered a private jet which was sold after serving as Turkey’s official aircraft for the Prime Ministry and Presidency for years. The jet was carrying a Belgian-Spanish passenger, Angel Gonzalez Valdez, four Turkish crew members, and 1.3 tonnes of cocaine in 24 suitcases in the northern city of Fortaleza.

Valdez died of cancer in custody. The jet’s pilot was sent back to Turkey, where he was charged with cocaine trafficking.

Journalist Cengiz Erdem, who covers drug-related crimes, told DW Turkish that drug gangs of Turkish origin had been establishing relations in European countries since the 1970s, so it was “not surprising” that Turks played a role in drug trafficking to Germany.

Erdem also stated that a reverse movement developed in the drug route in 2015 due to the decrease in heroin prices, and that a new route went through Turkey’s Mersin province to reach the Middle East using the existing relations of the Turkish mafia.

As a transit country, Turkey has also become a haven for western Balkan organised crime syndicates, according to BKA. The latest reports also point out that organised crime gangs have become more armed and have been resorting to violence more frequently in recent years.

The number of heroin trafficking investigations in Germany remains relatively small compared to other substances, but authorities warn that a low rate of seizures does not necessarily mean less circulation.

The 700 kg seized during busts in early September is the highest amount of heroin ever captured by the German police. The drug cartel leader who planned to distribute the heroin smuggled from Iran to Germany was a 40-year-old Turkish-Serbian citizen. Another 53-year-old Turk was in a critical position, too, liaising between the gang leader and German officials.

According to the BKA, two routes are used for heroin traffic from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran to western Europe: the Balkan and the Black Sea. The Balkan route reaches Serbia and Romania for passage to western Europe via Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. The other route passes through Turkey and proceeds via Ukraine, Moldova or Romania. On both routes, Turkey is at a critical point as a transit country for drug shipments to Europe.

On the other hand, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) director Alexis Goosdeel stated in a press release in June that the Russia-Ukraine war would inevitably cause a shift in the routes of drug traffic to Europe.

Goosdeel said that there were already signs that drug smuggling had increased on Turkey’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria, and that smugglers would use the Greek islands and the southern Mediterranean via Turkey instead of the Black Sea route.

Due to its location, Turkey’s status as transit country for smugglers does not shift, even if drug routes change.