Turkish gangs muscling in on heroin trade

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Crime Correspondent

Up to 20 Turkish gangs are running multi-million pound heroin rackets, stretching from London to Glasgow, making them one of Britain's fastest emerging organised crime groups.

The growing power of the Turkish traffickers is causing increasing concern among police and customs officers. Unpublished figures show that customs officers seized more than a ton (1,000kg) of heroin - worth pounds 90m at street prices - this year from Turkish traffickers, which is twice the quantity discovered in 1994. In one raid on a warehouse in north-east London earlier this year 190kg of heroin was discovered, but 12 similar shipments are believed to have gone undetected.

There have also been a number of murders involving competing Turkish groups, the majority of which are family outfits based in London, with strongholds in Glasgow and Manchester. They are also involved in smuggling illegal immigrants, extorting money through protection rackets and counterfeiting. People pay about pounds 3,000 each to be smuggled in through British ports. It can cost up to pounds 10,000 for a "special" job, with a bogus passport.

Much of the drug money is being laundered and made "legal" by buying up property and investing it in businesses such as restaurants and clubs. The senior members of the criminal families avoid involvement in the direct sale of the drug, usually passing it on to dealers to sell at street level, making it extremely difficult for the police to charge them.

Police forces throughout Europe are becoming increasingly concerned about the heroin smuggling from Turkey that a special meeting of Interpol discussed the subject about two months ago at a conference.

Detective Chief Inspector Ken Gallagher, deputy head of the south-east office of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, said: "In London we get about 5kg on a weekly basis - it's Turkish heroin linked to Turkish criminals. They are becoming more organised and there influence has extended. The price of heroin has been falling significantly recently. The price is only falling because the availability is increasing."

He added: "There have been a number of drug-related murders in Glasgow and London, which is a popular route for heroin."

He believes there are at least a dozen major Turkish families operating in this country - 10 in London and two in Glasgow. Police have reported that the Turkish criminals are increasingly turning to firearms and violence. In two incidents last year a man was shot dead in a cafe by a suspected hitman and another was murdered and then dumped in a field in Kent. Both were Turks who had connections with heroin trafficking.

Phil Connelly, head of the heroin operations at Customs and Excise investigations branch, said: "Heroin is the most pernicious and serious drug and therefore it is seen as the most serious threat. The traffickers can make huge amounts of money, which is why it is so attractive."

He estimates that there are about 20 major Turkish outfits operating among Britain's 300,000 Turks and Turkish Cypriots. But he believes believes better intelligence has helped double the amount of drugs seized this year, which will have cost the traffickers about pounds 6m.