GLOBAL ORGANISED CRIME
‘Most-wanted drug trafficker’ accused of peddling FBI hacked phones linked to South Africa, arrested in Turkey
More South African ties to global drug cartels emerge following the recent arrest of a trafficking ‘influencer’ in Turkey, in a crackdown linked to FBI ‘hacked’ devices.
A few years ago, thousands of criminals were using encrypted communication devices which they did not realise the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was secretly monitoring.
The devices were, in fact, products of an FBI front company called Anom, and, as Daily Maverick previously reported, drug traffickers using them were unaware that they were basically communicating about crime with cops instead of just themselves.
Among those accused of peddling the “hacked” devices was Hakan Ayik, also known as Joseph Hakan Ayik, a Turkish citizen who allegedly headed an outlaw motorcycle gang linked to Australia, where he is listed as a “most wanted” suspect for drug smuggling.
Anom devices spread around the world, South Africa included, which led to police making arrests in this country and searching for international suspects.
Read more in Daily Maverick: No business like blow business: Encrypted devices unravel knots of worldwide organised crime
Ayik also reportedly had ties to South Africa – he was previously suspected of using planes to fly drugs out of the country.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 2021: “Police intelligence and phone taps suggested Ayik had used his ‘doors’ to transport the drugs from South Africa via air freight to [the island country of] Tonga, where they were to be shipped to Australia.”
In what may be an unrelated crackdown, Daily Maverick reported last month that on 7 October, Australian police intercepted 100kg of cocaine flown there on a passenger plane from South Africa.
Turkey’s Operation Cage
Now, not even a month later, on 2 November, Turkey’s interior ministry announced that Comanchero – a reference to the outlawed Comanchero motorcycle gang which it alleged Ayik headed – “was brought down”.
Authorities in Australia have repeatedly flagged outlaw motorcycle gangs, like Comanchero, as using their chapters across the world to facilitate crimes including drug and firearm trafficking.
In the case of Ayik, he was arrested along with more than 30 others as part of a Turkish police project codenamed Operation Cage.
South Africa has cropped up in the investigation.
A Turkish interior ministry statement said gang leaders from Turkey and other states were in that country trying “to deliver the drugs they procured from South America to Australia, the Netherlands and Hong Kong via South Korea and South Africa, and commit crimes on a global scale”.
İSTANBUL’DA DÜZENLENEN KAFES OPERASYONU İLE AVUSTURALYA MERKEZLİ OLARAK KÜRESEL ÇAPTA FAALİYET GÖSTEREN VE LİDERLİĞİNİ HAKAN AYIK’IN (REİS) YAPTIĞI ULUSLARARASI SİLAHLI ORGANİZE SUÇ ÖRGÜTÜ COMANCHERO ÇÖKERTİLDİ❗️
OPERASYONLAR SONUCUNDA 3⃣7⃣ ŞÜPHELİ ŞAHIS YAKALANDI❗️
— Ali Yerlikaya (@AliYerlikaya) November 2, 2023
The statement added: “It has been determined that they are trying to launder the income they obtained from crimes in our country.”
As of last week, Ayik was still listed on Australia’s New South Wales police website under “most wanted persons” for the “supply of large commercial quantities of drugs”.
The Australian federal police’s acting deputy commissioner for crime, Grant Nicholls, said during a press conference the day after Ayik’s arrest that some of those detained in Turkey were behind some of the biggest illicit drug shipments in the world and had criminal associates across the globe.
“Some of the individuals… are alleged to be global threats,” Nicholls said.
“We allege some of those detained… are the masterminds of misery.”
Ayik reportedly appeared in a court in Istanbul on charges lodged against him there, where he remained in custody last week.
In the Anom saga, a US indictment in the case alleged that Ayik was an “administrator” and “an influencer” in the FBI’s secret encrypted device network that was rolled out in October 2018 and made public in June 2021.
“Influencers are well-known crime figures who wield significant power and influence over other criminal associates,” the indictment explained.
“These influencers have also built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise in the hardened encrypted device field, and use that… to promote, market, and encourage others to use specific hardened encrypted devices.”
Ayik allegedly encouraged others to use Anom devices, not knowing the communication platform was operated by the FBI.
In 2021, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, described how Anom devices had spread: “Criminals sold more than 12,000 Anom encrypted devices and services to more than 300 criminal syndicates operating in more than 100 countries, including Italian organised crime, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, and various international drug trafficking organisations, according to court records.”
Using information gleaned from Anom devices, the US previously conducted a crackdown, Operation Trojan Shield, in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police’s Operation Ironside.
More than 500 related arrests were made over two days in June 2021 when Anom was shut down.
In an Anom-related crackdown around the same time, in South Africa, a suspect driving a bakkie with a ski boat trailing behind it was arrested in Pretoria and R400-million worth of cocaine was found in the hull of the ski boat.
Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s lucrative drugs highway to the land Down Under
Five other suspects were subsequently arrested for that 800kg cocaine interception, while the South African police were also after two men from Lithuania and a third from Israel.
The case suggested a global drug smuggling ring was operating by way of South Africa, along the country’s coast and at its ports.
With Ayik’s arrest in Turkey, and reference to South Africa among the countries flagged in that global investigation, it appears the Comanchero outlaw motorcycle gang, which has strong ties to Australia, may be operating via this country.
South African cocaine interceptions
Daily Maverick has reported extensively on drug busts linked to South Africa and Australia.
There have recently also been cocaine interceptions in this country linked to Brazil.
Over about two weeks from 18 October, three cocaine interceptions – two in KwaZulu-Natal and one in the Eastern Cape – were carried out. A total of R215-million of the drug, brought into South Africa from Brazil, was confiscated.
Investigations into who was set to receive the cocaine in this country are ongoing. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.