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Turkey’s weak controls for illicit finance make it a transit country for drugs: report

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Turkey’s inadequate controls for addressing illicit finance make it a significant transit country for illegal drug trafficking, according to a March report by the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

This is particularly the case for opiates smuggled from Afghanistan to Europe and synthetic drugs produced in Europe and shipped to Asia, the report said.

According to the report, terrorist groups operating in and around Turkey “provide logistics, protection, and other support to drug smugglers.”

Pointing to heroin conversion laboratories near Turkey’s border with Iran that are of interest to transnational criminal networks, the report added that large shipments of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine from South America and Mexico to Europe and Asia are facilitated by criminal organizations in the country.

The report also mentions Turkey’s largest-ever cocaine seizure, 1.1 metric tons (MT) hidden among bananas on a ship from Ecuador, at a port in Mersin province in June 2021, and 143,787 operations between January and September 2021 conducted subsequently, in which Turkish police seized 13 MT of heroin, two MT of methamphetamine, two MT of “super strength” marijuana (“skunk”), 1.9 MT of cocaine, one MT of synthetic cannabinoid (bonsai) and over 19 million amphetamine tablets (including ecstasy and Captagon).

Having touched on these successful operations, the report also pointed to rumors of widespread corruption, spurred by YouTube videos by notorious mafia boss Sedat Peker, who alleged a Venezuela-Turkey cocaine connection close to the nation’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Erkan Yıldırım, a son of Binali Yıldırım who is currently deputy chairman of the AKP, was part of a major drug trafficking ring involving Venezuela and Turkey, Peker had claimed in a video posted on YouTube in mid-2021.

According to Peker, Erkan Yıldırım traveled to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas in January and February to establish a new drug trafficking route following a raid in Colombia in 2020 when Colombian authorities seized 4.9 tons of cocaine headed for Turkey. Peker said measures implemented by Colombian officials forced the Turkish drug network to find a new route via Venezuela.

Peker, the head of one of Turkey’s most powerful mafia groups who was once a staunch supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had set the country’s political agenda through videos he posted on YouTube in 2021, each of which reached over a million viewers on the first day of their release. The mafia boss, who lives in Dubai and is the subject of an outstanding warrant in Turkey, made shocking revelations about state-mafia relations, drug trafficking and murders implicating state officials.

Peker’s claim about Erkan Yıldırım was immediately denied by his father, Binali, who told reporters that Peker was lying. He confirmed that his son went to Venezuela, not in 2021 but in December 2020, to bring test kits and face masks in a bid to help the country fight the coronavirus pandemic.

However, statistics show the number of weekly coronavirus cases in Venezuela on average was only 350 in December 2020.

Binali Yıldırım said in a later statement that his son had a special interest in seeing Venezuela and was looking for business opportunities there.

“No Turkish government officials have been charged with complicity in drug trafficking or the laundering of drug proceeds in 2021,” the report stated.

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