Europe’s most-wanted fugitives are increasingly evading capture by becoming Turkish citizens, police have told VICE World News.
Law enforcement officials have grown concerned that criminals linked to large-scale drug trafficking are exploiting Turkey’s policy of issuing citizenship to investors, while also taking advantage of the fact the country is refusing to extradite its newly minted citizens.
Rawa Majid, known as the “Kurdish Fox,” an accused Iraqi-Kurdish drug trafficker and suspected of major crimes in Sweden, resides in Turkey after purchasing citizenship in 2020 through its so-called “Golden Passport” programme, which offers citizenship in exchange for $400,000 (around £320,000) in investment.
Despite arrest warrants from Interpol and Sweden, where he is one of the country’s most-wanted criminals, Turkey refuses to arrest or extradite Majid because of this citizenship.
“An extradition of Rawa Majid from Turkey has been requested,” Sweden’s public prosecutor Henrik Söderman told the news website POLITICO. “Turkish authorities have said that the extradition is not possible because Rawa Majid is a Turkish citizen.”
Turkey is refusing to extradite Majid, citing Sweden’s own refusal to deport several people branded “terrorists” by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, including a journalist accused of trying to overthrow Erdoğan’s government and a teacher accused of trying to “subvert the constitutional order”. When Sweden applied for NATO membership last year in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkey, which is a NATO member, blocked the application due to Sweden’s refusal to deport these people.
Yet European law enforcement officials, speaking to VICE World News on background because of diplomatic sensitivities, said the problem with the Turkish citizenship programme goes far beyond one Kurdish drug trafficker.
They said accused drug traffickers are increasingly turning towards Turkey, as well as the United Arab Emirates, which offers easy residency, but not citizenship, to people with large amounts of cash to invest.
“The UAE, particularly Dubai, has been a well known problem in terms of allowing known cartel figures residency, with a very unresponsive extradition process that leaves multiple accused traffickers living openly,” said a Belgian official. “But Turkey, by granting actual citizenship to anyone with about half a million dollars, is another matter completely," the official said. “Between Netherlands and Belgium alone there could be a dozen fugitives using Turkey passports.”
Three European law enforcement officials cited the same example of another drug trafficker using the Turkish citizenship programme: Jos Leijdekkers, known as “Bolle Jos” (chunky boss) for his large size, an accused Dutch cocaine smuggler and one of Europe’s top fugitives, suspected in at least one grisly murder.
“We know Bolle Jos bought Turkish citizenship and thus according to the Turkish constitution cannot be sent abroad for trial,” said a Dutch official. “He’s a Flemish guy from Breda [Netherlands], he doesn’t have any connection to Turkey beyond whatever he paid them for the passport,” added the official.
Dutch police have offered a record €200,000 reward for information on Leijdekkers’ location He heads both the Dutch and EU-wide most-wanted lists based on evidence collected in the Sky EEC hack that has led to hundreds of indictments across Europe since 2021.
Leijdekkers, 31, has been accused of running thousands of kilos of cocaine through Rotterdam and Antwerp ports, which have developed into the main path for cocaine into Europe. He’s also accused of laundering hundreds of millions of euros in drug proceeds via gold shipments between Turkey and Dubai.
“The encrypted messages show that Leijdekkers was involved in laundering dozens of millions of euros and hundreds of kilos of gold, which were probably earned through cocaine trafficking,” said a Europol statement. “During the large-scale criminal investigation, the investigation team composed a criminal file about Leijdekkers’ involvement in the import of large quantities of cocaine via the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.”
Based off those Sky ECC messages and photographs found on the phone of his notorious Dutch cocaine trafficking colleague, Ridouan Taghi, Leijdekkers is suspected of ordering the kidnapping, torture and murder of Dutch-Moroccan cocaine broker Naima Jillal in 2019.
Jillal, whose body was never found, disappeared in Amsterdam after Leijdekkers began to suspect her involvement in stealing a cocaine shipment. Photos believed to be of her torture and murder were eventually found on Taghi’s phone after his 2019 arrest in Dubai, leading police to conclude her body is unlikely to be recovered.
“Private planes between Dubai and Turkey aren’t easy to monitor and it's known he has both Turkish and fake passports,” said the Dutch official, who would not confirm recent reports that police believe Leijdekkers often visits the Netherlands under a false identity. “With property in Turkey and Dubai and no fear of arrest moving between the two, it’s extremely difficult to determine his location.”
The Embassy of Turkey in The Hague did not respond to a request for comment.