July 27, 2023 | Washington Examiner

Turkey is becoming a major hub for cocaine trafficking to Europe

July 27, 2023 | Washington Examiner

Turkey is becoming a major hub for cocaine trafficking to Europe

Ankara’s reputation for smuggling is not new, and its portfolio in facilitating the free flow of illicit goods is growing to include drugs. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Turkey was implicated in questionable practices that included the alleged purchase of stolen Ukrainian grains, illegally shipped across the Black Sea and delivered to Turkish ports in Russian vessels, which originated in internationally sanctioned Crimea.

Turkey appears to have profited out of purchasing stolen Ukrainian grain, with Turkish authorities doing little to question and investigate the origin of the grains that entered Turkey. This was exposed by the Financial Times last year; now, the focus of investigating Ankara’s permissive attitude toward smuggling has turned to cocaine.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has identified Turkey as a major transit country for cocaine. While many countries struggle to prevent the shipment of drugs through their territory, Turkey appears to be either welcoming it or turning a blind eye to it. UNDOC stated that Turkey “has been increasingly used as a transit country for cocaine in recent years. Since 2014, the amount of the drug seized in the country has increased sevenfold from 393 kilograms to a record 2.8 tons in 2021. Some of the cocaine reaching Turkey arrives after transiting through West Africa, and some comes directly from Latin America.”

The figures quoted by the U.N. are all backed up by drug seizures in Latin America, which go uninvestigated by Turkish authorities and do not get reported in the Turkish mainstream press. For example, in 2020, Colombian authorities seized 5 tons of cocaine in two containers that were bound for Turkey. This was followed by the seizure of 1.3 tons of cocaine in Brazil on a private Turkish jet that was once owned by the Turkish government and now operated by a Turkish “businessman.” Allegations abound, focusing on former government officials such as Suleyman Soylu, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s former interior minister, and Mehmet Agar, a shady former law enforcement official, as being responsible for the organizing and distributing of narcotics inside of Turkey, as well their onward movement to Western Europe.

None of this is a huge surprise, and it helps us understand why Turkey also grants citizenship to major European drug traffickers. In a previous article, I noted Turkey’s proven track record of granting Turkish citizenship to some of Europe’s most wanted drug traffickers and refusing to extradite them to countries such as Sweden, even when being pursued under Interpol arrest warrants. Elements of the Turkish government are likely involved in providing support to and benefiting from the shipment, distribution, and sale of Latin American drugs in Turkey and Europe.

Such allegations are congruent with the larger picture of Turkey’s permissive attitude toward illicit finance flows. Until the Biden administration turned up the heat in 2022, Turkey’s financial and banking system provided a safe haven for Russian oligarchs’ monies. Countries such as Turkey proved instrumental in allowing sanctioned Russian persons and entities access to world markets. This was largely achieved by large (and undisclosed) sums of money being deposited into Turkish banks due to Ankara’s unwillingness to participate in the international sanctions regime against Russia. In 2022, $28 billion of unaccounted deposits in the Turkish Central Bank was brushed away by the finance minister as a “net error.”

The Biden administration and the European Union are fixated on working with Erdogan’s Turkey on a transactional basis to achieve limited goals such as containing the flow of migrants to Europe and securing Ankara’s approval for Swedish membership of NATO. While such pursuits are worthy, one needs to take stock and come to the realization that the Erdogan government we refer to as an “ally” carries all the hallmarks of being a crime syndicate that evades sanctions, permits illicit financial flows, and is becoming the major conduit of narcotics shipments to Europe. What kind of ally is that?

Sinan Ciddi (@SinanCiddi) is a nonresident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program and Center on Military and Political Power.


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