The wheelchair-bound Godfather who ruled Britain's heroin market

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The Independent Online

Unable to walk since the mid-Eighties the 45-year-old Kurd came to England from Turkey in 1997 to claim asylum from persecution. But far from being a helpless victim, Baybasin and his young followers, known as the bombacilars (the bombers), at one stage ran one of the country's most powerful drugs networks.

The man, nicknamed Apo (uncle), was also responsible for terrorising Turkish and Kurdish communities and extorting hundreds of thousands of pounds from businesses and individuals.

His story is one of violence and power, and how an extraordinary police operation brought down this crime empire. It also reveals how foreign traffickers have managed to infiltrate the British drugs market and take control of heroin dealing. With about 260,000 users in Britain, the supply of the narcotic has never been more plentiful with prices - anindicator of availability - at an all-time low.

At the centre of the secret investigation into Baybasin and his drugs syndicate was a tiny camera and microphones hidden in the crime lord's headquarters in Haringey. Through the miniature spying device the police were able to watch and listen to the day-to-day workings of one of Britain's most ruthless and powerful drug traffickers.

They recorded drug dealers from all over the country paying their respects to Apo and giving him a "levy", or fee, for being allowed to operate. On other occasions shopkeepers were brought to the small room and beaten by the bombacilars until they agreed to pay "taxes" - from £50 to £100,000.

For nearly eight months in 2003 officers from the National Crime Squad watched Baybasin. Detective Chief Inspector Robin Plummer, who led the surveillance operation, said: "People were in awe of him. It was like watching a scene fromThe Godfather - people would come into the room and kiss his hand. He used to speak in a whisper ... in Turkish and Kurdish, so only the people close to him could hear." He continued: "At the height of their power the Baybasin brothers had immense influence in the control of heroin trafficking. I would not be surprised if they were in control of about 90 per cent of the heroin coming into the UK. If you wanted heroin or you were involved in a heroin deal then you had to go to Baybasin."

So how did a Kurdish family from Turkey come to control the British heroin market? The head of the family, Huseyin Baybasin, teamed up with the Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which is fighting for autonomy in Turkey's south-east.

With the PKK's firepower the Baybasin syndicate took control of vast quantities of the heroin coming out of Afghanistan. From the 1970s the family manufactured heroin in secret factories in the Lice area of Turkey. The enterprise generated a fortune and Huseyin Baybasin earned the nickname of "the Emperor". His international network smuggled hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of the drug into the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Germany each year. Some of the huge profits being made by the Baybasin network was siphoned off by the family to buy properties and land in Turkey, and a hotel in Brighton, while the PKK continued to receive a share.

In 2001 the eldest Baybasin, "the Emperor", was convicted on charges of conspiracy to murder, kidnapping and drug smuggling and sentenced to 20 years - later increased to life - in jail in the Netherlands. With his imprisonment it was Abdullah Baybasin's turn at the helm.

The new leader was wheelchair-bound after suffering a spinal injury reportedly from a ricocheting bullet during a shooting in the Netherlands. He is thought to have come to the UK in 1997 and applied for temporary leave to remain as a political refugee. In the same year he bought a six-bedroomed house in Edgware, north London, for £375,000, which was paid for in cash. He is married to a woman who has UK citizenship, and the couple have a teenage son.

Tensions between his followers and PKK supporters grew after "Apo" Baybasin decided to stop funding the separatists, according to police intelligence. In November 2002 a battle broke out between about 40 men armed with guns, knives and baseball bats outside a cafe, the Dostlar Social Club, in Green Lanes, north-east London. Twenty men were injured and an innocent man, Alisan Dogan, a 43-year-old Kurdish cleaner, was fatally stabbed.

By now the elite National Crime Squad had Baybasin in its sights and as part of Operation Marmot managed to fit a hidden camera in the network's headquarters in 2003.

The premises used by Baybasin and his cronies was a dingy room that was accessed via a reinforced glass door by the side of a food shop on Green Lanes. The room contained a settee, a small table, television and computer.

"Baybasin's would turn up two or three times a week to run the business," said Det Chief Insp Plummer. "You could hear within the room people getting kicked and punched. As well as extortion they used to tax other criminals. For example, people who did human trafficking were told to pay £1,000 levy a person.

Police also recorded discussions about plans for petrol-bomb attacks on shops that would not pay for protection.

But Apo's reign of terror came to an end last Friday when at Woolwich Crown Court he pleaded guilty to extortion. Two weeks earlier he was found guilty of drug charges involving 5.5lb of heroin. During that trial a witness said Baybasin and his brother were responsible for 90 per cent of the heroin trade in Britain.

Baybasin will be sentenced in both cases at the end of next month. Sixteen other members of his gang have been convicted of offences that include conspiracy to kidnap and blackmail, and conspiracy to supply heroin.

On Green Lanes life has greatly improved since Baybasin and his thugs were locked up. One man said: "When I first arrived in this area shopkeepers told me that they used to be taxed, and about finding blood on the pavements - it sounded like something out of the wild west. That's changed and the area is very much up and coming."

Not everyone, however, believed the rule of the Baybasins is over. Police confirmed that they were concerned about two members of the Baybasin clan. "We think they are trying to continue the family 'business'," said one detective.