Experts say Turkey becoming a drug transit hub

ISTANBUL — Turkish police have seized the third largest haul of cocaine in the country’s history, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced Thursday, as groups monitoring organized crime warned that the country was becoming an entry point for drugs reaching Europe.

Some 608 kilograms of cocaine, most of it in liquid form, were confiscated in an operation across three provinces, Yerlikaya posted on the social media platform X. Nearly 830 kilograms of precursor chemicals used to process the drug were also seized.

Yerlikaya said the police operation targeted an international gang allegedly led by a Lebanese-Venezuelan national, who was among four foreign members of the “organized crime group” detained, along with nine Turks.

“The amount of cocaine seized in the … operation was the third-largest amount of cocaine seized at one time in Turkey,” the minister added.

Groups monitoring organized crime say Turkey is growing as a transit hub for cocaine coming from South America to Europe as security at ports such as Rotterdam in the Netherlands becomes tighter.

In a report dated October last year, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime said a 44% rise in cocaine seizures in Turkey between 2021 and 2022 was not reflected in data on domestic consumption, “suggesting that the country is likely to serve as a drug corridor.”

Officials made Turkey’s largest seizure — 1.1 tons of cocaine hidden in a consignment of bananas from Ecuador — at the Mediterranean port of Mersin in 2021.

Since coming to office in June last year, Yerlikaya has overseen a clampdown on organized crime in Turkey to counter claims the country has become a haven for foreign gangsters.

He regularly posts details of the latest police operation to target drug traffickers, fraudsters and other criminals.

Thursday’s social media post included a video, overlaid with dramatic music, showing apparent surveillance footage, large plastic containers and a pressing machine.

The operation was led by anti-narcotics officers based in Kocaeli, which lies southeast of Istanbul, but also included investigations in Tekirdag to Istanbul’s northwest and in the Mediterranean province of Antalya.

The gang used vineyards in Tekirdag and Antalya to store chemicals and process the cocaine, which had been disguised in fertilizer, according to Yerlikaya. A shotgun was also recovered by police, he added.

“We will not tolerate poison traffickers, organized crime groups and gangs, whether national or international,” the minister wrote. 

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