Political groups used as traffickers' cover

Jason Bennetto examines the way drug dealers do business
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The Independent Online
The 36 rolls of cotton looked as if they could have come from any market stall. Piled in a heap at a depot in north-east London they were being picked up by their new owner.

Unfortunately for him, the two labourers helping with the load were undercover officers from the investigations division at Customs and Excise.

Inside the 36 rolls, which were with a load of about 250, secret compartments had been cut and filled with heroin. In all 190kg of the drug - worth about pounds 17m at street prices - was found. It was smuggled through Dover in a truck by Turkish drug traffickers from Istanbul.

Earlier this month Bulent Cevik, from Turkey, was jailed for 20 years for importing the drug. At his trial it emerged that 12 other similar shipments had been made, in which the cotton had been picked up, but there was no evidence that it had been sold. Customs officers assume vast quantities of the drug had been distributed around the country.

Police and customs investigators believe the traffickers are growing in power and that more heroin is entering the country. Customs doubled their seizures of Turkish heroin this year and police have reported a drop in the street price - proof that there is more of the substance available.

Police believe that many of the criminals are using the cover of two left-wing groups, the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party) and Dev Sol (the Revolutionary Left) which carry out extortion in London to raise funds for guerrilla warfare in Turkey. Their activities are monitored by Special Branch.

The police have also noted an apparent increased willingness by the Turks to use guns and violence to maintain their grip on the market.

In September last year, the body of Hassan Bilgi, 46, a Turkish Cypriot, was found with gunshot wounds dumped in a field in Kent. He is believed to have been killed in London where he lived on the Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke, south-east London. Police believe he had links with Turkish heroin dealers.

Mehmet Kaygisiz, a 33-year-old Kurdish businessman, was also known to the police as a middle-ranking member of a drugs gang. He was playing backgammon at a Turkish club in Islington, north London, in April last year when a man walked in and shot him dead. Security sources believe he was killed by a hitman who had been specially flown in from Turkey.

The heroin is usually imported into the UK in large quantities and then sent to contacts, often outside the Turkish community, in smaller packages of about 50kg. These secondary traffickers are based in places such as Liverpool and Glasgow. They have their contacts who take about 7kg loads, which are broken up into tiny amounts for street and club sales.

The Turkish gangs have concentrated on heroin and thereby managed to avoid competing with the traditional family gangs who do not have the international contacts and find it difficult to import the drug. However they are happy to buy the heroin from the Turks.

Many of the families have invested in night-clubs, drinking dens, known as "spielers", and restaurants in areas such as Green Lanes in north London, which is filled with cafes and clubs in which Turks drink coffee, gamble and gossip.

Detective Chief Inspector Ken Gallagher, deputy head of the south-east office of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, said there was no evidence that either Dev Sol of the PKK were involved in heroin trafficking. "Criminals will pretend to use political titles such as terrorism to help gain more respect or a cover, but in reality they are just criminals."

"The modern high-level drug dealer will have some legitimate business activity. He has to launder the proceeds. This is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Family businesses and connections are used. The people at the top keep clean."

He added that the breaking down of borders across Europe made trafficking harder to detect. "We are looking at this as an international problem."

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