Photo: Stuart Griffiths
By the time Suleyman Ergun was 21 years old, he was the world’s most prolific and powerful seller of smack. Known throughout the junkie and police communities as the North London Turk, Ergun and his gang flooded Britain and Europe with heroin for five years.
For his pains, the former factory worker got mansions filled with cash and unlimited underworld cachet. At the height of his powers he was a multimillionaire and his favorite tipple was a bottle of champagne with eight grams of cocaine dumped into it. Today, he is almost penniless and lives with his mum. He’s 39. What happened?
VICE: Tell me a fond memory of your drug-dealing days.
Suleyman Ergun: There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you’ve got 100 kilos of heroin in the trunk of your car. Just to be near it, to smell it. Driving along at 120 mph in France somewhere and thinking: “I know what I’ve got in the car.” Police stopping beside you. A gun under my seat. Wouldn’t think twice about shooting them. Taking the risk. At the end of the day that’s why I became a drug dealer. Not the money or the power, but the buzz.
Did you serve an underworld apprenticeship?
At 15 I was an errand boy working in the Turkish rag trade in North London. I was earning £70 a week. At 17, I started selling coke, E, and pot, and I was earning £1,000 a week. Then I muled a couple of kilos of coke direct from Colombia and sold it in the clubs, along with tablets. Someone tried to rob me in the toilets of the Camden Palace once—I shot him in the leg.
How does one go from selling coke in a bathroom in Camden to being the king of all heroin in Europe?
Me, my former brother-in-law Yilmaz Kaya, and an Istanbul babas [godfather] named the Vulcan founded the Turkish Connection—that’s a network that smuggles heroin from Afghanistan across Turkey into Europe. Up until the early 90s, Turks had been bringing it in piecemeal. An immigrant would bring in ten keys, sell it, buy a shop in Green Lane and pack it in. We were the first to start bringing it in 100-kilo loads. Stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap….
It’s that simple, eh?
No, that’s only the supply. On the demand side, we bypassed all the usual gangsters and crime families in London. We fucked the Adams family off when they asked us to serve up to them. Instead, we sent it all to one distributor in Liverpool who sold the lot.
What was your role?
I was hands-on. The gear was driven from Istanbul to Paris in, say, a coach load of Turkish folk dancers. I coordinated the handover to the Scousers in France.
Then I’d drive up to Liverpool a few days later and come back with black bin bags full of cash—£140,000 one week, £100,000 the next, £68,000 the next, £150,000 the next, and so on. Then I’d count it, stack it, and box it in cereal packets and send it back to Turkey using a former Turkish Army colonel disguised as a bone-china collector as a courier.
After a while, we rolled out the same system across Europe—Spain, Italy, Holland, and Germany. We dealt with the Mafia, all of that. At one point we could afford to buy our own oil tanker.
Where did it all go wrong?
One of our workers was having an affair with a woman who was a police informant. He got nicked. Customs put us under surveillance for a year, and then bingo. The whole thing got walloped in July ’93.
What was the upshot?
Fourteen years, nine months. The gang got 123 years between them.
Did that teach you a lesson?
Did it fuck. I started dealing in prison within two days, trading heroin and coke for phone cards, food, tobacco. In September 1995 I used heroin for the first time, out of boredom and curiosity. It felt lovely and warm, like somebody putting an electric blanket over you. But the best thing about it, and this is why the jails are full of heroin, is that it makes time go by very quick. Twenty hours on heroin is like two hours normal. I got out ten years later and I didn’t know I done the bird [prison time].
How did you get your heroin in jail?
Before I got nicked, I had five kilos of pure heroin straight from Turkey buried along with two Berettas, an Uzi, and four shotguns at St. Pancras graveyard in North London. Every week I’d phone a girl up and use the word “brandy,” which was code for brown—heroin—and she would go and get it. She dug up the stash and shaved off some, and then it was given to a second girl who had a boyfriend in my prison. It was wrapped in a condom and nylon sheeting, shaped up proper like a dildo. She stuck it up her cunt. On the visit, they’d snuggle up close, and her boyfriend would put his hand slyly down her knickers, get it, and then stick it up his arse. Back in my cell, he’d get 60 grams and I’d get 60 grams.
Didn’t the prison wardens ever find out?
I had the DST—Dedicated Search Team—permanently on my case. They even used to take apart my batteries in the radio. But they never found gear in my cell because I used to hide it in my vegetable plot. I hollowed out an onion and put the gear inside and buried it. When the stalk wilted, I just taped a fresh one on. Take three grams out a day. Sell half a gram for my phone cards and that, and smoke the rest. Sometimes I would put it up my arse wrapped in tape so if the screws made me squat during a search, it wouldn’t fall out.
Couldn’t anyone smell you smoking it?
As long as you’re not causing trouble, cutting people over deals, and fighting, then the screws turn a blind eye. They know you’re on it because your pupils are like tiny pinholes and you start scratching and go red and raw. But the authorities let it go because if you stop the heroin it causes murders and they can’t handle that. Withdrawal symptoms. Kicking doors. Drugs will never be stamped out in jail.
How many bent screws did you know?
About six all over. They approached me because I was rich. I never ate prison food. They brought me in Marks and Spencer salads. In one prison the screw brought me in four ounces of weed, half a carrier bag full of phone cards, half a bag of tobacco, a TV, a phone, and two bottles of brandy, every week, for £500 a week, plus the bill for the food. He’d wink and say: “Your box is under your bed.” Then I’d pay another inmate to look after it. If you don’t have money, you have nothing.
I suppose when you got out of prison in 2003 you gave up drugs?
No, it got much worse. I discovered crack cocaine. The world had changed so much. I couldn’t cross the road—it was too fast. I used to see people talking to themselves on their hands-free and think they were off their heads.
What’s crack like?
It’s great. It blew my fucking head off. Over the next four years I blew half a million pounds on it. Sold my flat. My jewelry. Spent the few hundred grand I had stashed away.
What was the lowest point?
My mate robbed a rock off my table. I dragged him into the kitchen and chopped his little finger off with a knife on a chopping board. Then I flushed it down the toilet.
Some people would say that it was natural justice—that you were being punished for selling heroin by becoming a drug addict.
An eye for an eye. I’d created thousands and thousands of addicts. My past had caught up with me. I got depressed and then I took more crack and heroin to stop thinking.
How did you finally get off drugs?
I went for treatment in Turkey twice. A detox where they put you to sleep through withdrawal. It cost £20,000. My family paid. But when I got back onto the streets here in London, I kept slipping. Finally, I fell in love. It’s as simple as that. I haven’t touched a stone since.
Would you ever go back to being a heroin baron?
Not in a million fucking years. I’ve been offered a million pounds in cash to start up again. I could fly to Turkey now and get 100 keys and be away. £100,000 in cash by tomorrow. Mine. I get approached every week by someone or other, some of the country’s biggest gangsters, to go into business. But I can’t do it.
Why? Are you scared?
Fuck off. D’you want a smack?
Did you enjoy that? Sure you did. Now check out: