Turkey Faces Fresh Allegations of Harbouring Cocaine Traffickers

There’s “increasing concern” that Turkey’s so-called golden visa policies are making it easier for wanted gangsters to escape justice.
turkey gangsters cocaine golden visas

Turkey has become a safe haven for gangsters, European police say, after the country refused to extradite two alleged cocaine traffickers who escaped the law by buying Turkish citizenship.    

European police officials have confirmed reports that Turkey denied extradition requests from Belgium for two Balkan men accused of smuggling tons of cocaine from 2020 to 2022 after the suspects purchased Turkish citizenship in the months before the request.


Turkey refused to extradite Bosnian Sani al Murdaa and ​​Albanian Fljamur Sinanaj at the request of Belgian prosecutors in July, because both men had purchased Turkish citizenship for about $500,000 each, earlier this year after fleeing Sarajevo and Belgrade as Belgium issued Interpol red notices for their arrest. 

The issue of fugitives using the Turkish visa program to avoid arrest came to light last year after Dutch authorities complained that another widely sought accused cocaine trafficker Jos Leijdekkers, aka “Bolle Jos” (chunky boss), was operating his cartel with impunity from Turkey after receiving Turkish citizenship. Turkey has thus far refused to arrest Leydeckers, but did raid business suspected of links to his operation and made seizures of close to 1 billion Turkish lira (around $36 million).

From messages recovered from the Sky-ECC hack – which compromised millions of texts from encrypted phones used by gangsters – Murdaa and Sinanaj were linked to at least 3.2 tons of cocaine intercepted in Antwerp’s port from 2020 to 2022 on behalf of the infamous Serbo-Montenegrin Skaljar cartel.

Belgian prosecutors, police and foreign ministry officials did not respond to requests for comment on the record, but a Belgian Federal Police official confirmed the details of the situation to VICE News on the condition of background because of diplomatic concerns.


“UAE has long been the major problem in terms of bringing cocaine-milieu suspects to trial but there is an increasing concern that Turkey’s Golden Visa policies make it very easy for anyone with cash to become a citizen almost overnight,” said the official. “And Turkey categorically refuses to extradite its citizens, even if they spent their entire lives in Holland, Bosnia or Serbia and carry no Turkish blood or family ties.”

A large amount of cocaine hidden inside fertiliser is displayed at the Ambarli Port in Istanbul in October, 2020. Photo: Xinhua/Osman Orsal via Getty Images

A large amount of cocaine hidden inside fertiliser is displayed at the Ambarli Port in Istanbul in October, 2020. Photo: Xinhua/Osman Orsal via Getty Images

A second European law enforcement official, who cannot be named for security reasons and refused to be directly quoted, said that Murdaa is a well known associate of Edin Gačanin, aka Tito, a notorious Bosnian trafficker believed based in Dubai, indicted for running a massive cocaine smuggling operation between South America and the ports of Belgium and the Netherlands. Murdaa’s half-sister, believed by authorities to be Gačanin’s business and one-time romantic partner, manages key businesses in Sarajevo that prosecutors allege are fronts for cartel money laundering, according to Sky-ECC transcripts provided to BiH prosecutors and reported in the Bosnian media.

Murdaa and Sinanaj are also connected to the Skaljar cartel, according to the Interpol notices, which were described to VICE.


The European law enforcement official said that the five-year-old war between Skaljar and its rival cartel, the Kavak clan, which has killed an estimated 50 people across Europe and South America, had left leadership positions open that Murdaa would fill as both cartels appeared to be relocating to Istanbul from the Balkans. 

Jovan Vukotić, a major figure in the Skaljar cartel, was assassinated in Istanbul on September 8, 2022, which led Turkish police to arrest several men accused of the murder on behalf of the Kavak cartel. During the investigation into the murders, Turkish police found evidence that led them to arrest Zavak boss, Željko Bojanić, not only for Vukotić’s murder, but added charges he’d tortured another member of the Skaljar to death in Bojanić’s luxury villa on the Bosphorus. 

“Turkey can’t extradite its citizens but it can try them for torturing rival gangsters to death in Turkey,” said the Belgian police official. 

Turkey’s reputation as a safe haven for drug cartels took another public relations hit last June after an infamous gangster, who was banned from holding public office for his criminal convictions, celebrated his birthday with a cake depicting an assault rifle on a stack of US currency that appeared to have cocaine pouring out of it. 


Cengiz Şıklaroğlu’s post in June, shot on a boat showed a cake emblazoned with his nickname “Çerkez” along with “No Illegal, Yes Sugardady”. 

Şıklaroğlu has a reputation for flamboyance and ties to criminal activity in Turkey. He was elected to parliament, representing the central Turkish city of Sivas in 2015, but was prevented from taking up his seat because of previous criminal convictions that led to a 10-month jail sentence in 2016. He was convicted over charges his company extorted Syrian refugees, after being found to have forced them to sign their valuables over to his company in exchange for resettlement aid. He arrived at prison to serve his sentence at the head of a 100-strong vehicle convoy. 

In a video at what appeared to be his birthday party, which picked up 15.2k likes in the 30 plus days since it was posted, Şıklaroğlu could be seen toasting the crowd and standing with the cake.

From 2005 to 2010, Şıklaroğlu was investigated in both Turkey and Russia on a wide range of charges ranging from extortion to drug smuggling to the attempted assassination of Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but was repeatedly acquitted of the charges. 

Şıklaroğlu runs multiple commercial enterprises around Turkey and enjoys running a YouTube channel dedicated to his lifestyle, exploits, and Al Capone. Şıklaroğlu, aka “Çerkez Cengiz” or “Circassian Cengiz,” is usually dedicated to his love and ownership of exotic animals including big cats, poisonous snakes, bears and crocodiles. He is still rumoured to be involved with organised crime.  

VICE News attempted to contact Şıklaroğlu for an interview or comment via multiple social media channels, but got no response.