The Turkish government’s role in the country’s escalating organized crime activities is scrutinized in the recently published Global Organized Crime Index 2023 released by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), which says Turkey is using global law enforcement mechanisms such as INTERPOL based on political reasons to target journalists, activists and political opponents living abroad.
Countries were given a score on a scale of one to 10 in the index, with one the least activity and 10 the highest. With a criminality score of 7.03, Turkey was ranked the 14th worst country of 193 UN member states, worse than Libya, Yemen and Venezuela.
Despite dropping from 12th to 14th place globally since the 2021 index, Turkey leads Europe in organized crime, a status worsened by alleged state involvement in various illicit activities, according to the index’s Turkey overview.
The report highlights that multiple mafia-style groups in Turkey have developed close relationships with government officials and politicians. This collaboration is said to offer these groups a degree of immunity from law enforcement and the judicial system. The study brings into focus the inconsistencies in law enforcement practices, with critics claiming that the government favors those who support the ruling party.
The report accuses the Turkish government of widespread corruption, contributing to the country’s troubling standing in organized crime. Concerns about corruption, favoritism and lack of transparency were exacerbated following a financial crisis. Allegations of bribery in public tenders and back-door deals have led to increased public skepticism regarding the government’s integrity.
Although Turkey has ratified international treaties related to organized crime, the report states that the country selectively cooperates with international crime investigations, particularly avoiding initiatives that might implicate political elites. The report underlines that Turkey is issuing increasing numbers of politically motivated INTERPOL Red Notices, targeting journalists, activists and political opponents abroad.
Turkey is also pinpointed as a significant hotspot for oil smuggling, especially from countries like Syria, Iraq and Iran. Moreover, the country serves as a crucial player in the heroin trade, owing to its strategic geographical location. Both activities allegedly have seen some level of state involvement.
According to the index, the judiciary in Turkey faces systemic problems stemming from political pressure, compromising its role in combating organized crime. While law enforcement agencies are well equipped and trained, they are tainted by political influence and corruption, says the report.
According to the index’s global overview, although the cocaine trade had been a negligible drug market in Turkey, as the heroin and synthetic drug markets dominated over the years, recent seizures carried out by both countries of origin and Turkish authorities indicate an expanding role of the country in the cocaine trade.
“Currently, Turkey appears to be on its way to becoming one of the major global transit hubs for cocaine originating from South America. The country provides a fertile opportunity for the cocaine trade given the expertise of Turkish criminal groups in drug trafficking and existing networks active in the trafficking routes,” the report said.
Data from a 2023 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report underscores Turkey’s rising prominence as a transit country for illicit drugs, particularly cocaine. The report revealed a sevenfold surge in drug seizures in Turkey since 2014, paralleling a 35 percent global increase in coca bush cultivation between 2021 and 2022. Drug seizures in Turkey reached a record high of 2.8 tons in 2021.