Turkish gang jailed for heroin smuggling

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One of Britain's major heroin smugglers was jailed for 30 years yesterday in an operation by Customs and Excise investigators which revealed the growing menace of Turkish drug barons.

Two other Turkish Kurds also received long sentences, along with a Czech driver who used a pensioners' tour bus to ship 50kg consignments of heroin into London.

Customs officers believe millions of pounds' worth of heroin was smuggled into Britain and sold before the gang was caught with 198kg of the narcotic. The seizure last September, which had an estimated street value of up to pounds 60m, was the second-largest haul in Britain.

The operation provided further evidence of the influence of Turkish drugs gangs operating from north London. About 20 are believed to run 80 per cent of the multi-million-pound heroin trade. In the past 10 years they have wrested control from Pakistani and Indian traffickers

Muslum Simsek, 31, who was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court, south London, to 30 years yesterday, is among the top 20 British operators, although his boss has not been caught.

In March customs officers warned that Britain was on the verge of a heroin epidemic, with seizures of the drug up 80 per cent to a record total in 1995. They recovered 1,118kg of heroin, which is now the most common class A drug.

After the trial customs investigator Steve Hemsley said: "These convictions and sentences represent a significant victory against the Turkish gangs who are responsible for importing so much misery to Britain.

"We know Simsek has been in Britain for 10 years and are convinced that for most, if not all, of this time he has been involved in smuggling in consignments worth hundreds of millions of pounds."

Also jailed was car salesman Ali Aksu, 32, of Bounds Green, north London, the only one of the four to plead guilty. The judge described him as a "mid-ranker" in the plot. He was sentenced to 20 years.

Huseyin Kaynak, 34, of Wood Green, north London, who was also convicted of the conspiracy, was a "courier-cum-errand boy". He was jailed for 24 years.

Coach driver Tomas Honz, 27, from Liberic, in the Czech Republic, who had also unsuccessfully denied the conspiracy charge, was given 26 years.

The jury received 24-hour police protection throughout the five-week trial.