Tim Lowell
Nov 03 2017

Assassination of drug baron’s lawyer leads to trail of mob violence

 

(ANKARA - Tim Lowell)

At around 10.30 p.m. on Oct. 31, 2017, a group of friends and family went out to eat at a restaurant on Cümbüş Sokak in the Istanbul district of Bakırköy.

Lawyer Kutbettin Kaya got up to go to the bathroom. When he came out, five shots were fired from a semi-automatic weapon directly into his head, Turkish newspapers said.

He died before the ambulance reached hospital, and his assailant ran out of the restaurant and got into a waiting vehicle without being identified.

Earlier the same day, Kaya’s client – one of Turkey’s most powerful drug barons – had told an Istanbul court that his biggest rival in the underworld had met jailed U.S. Consulate worker Metin Topuz as part of a plot to help the movement of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based preacher blamed for last year’s failed coup.

Orhan Ünğan said Topuz had arranged a meeting between U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officials and Naji Sharifi Zindashti, a prominent Iranian heroin smuggler, while the latter was in jail in Turkey on drugs charges in 2009 and that they had convinced him to become a witness in trials against prominent secularists in return for release from prison.

However, it may be that in trying to tie Zindashti’s long history of duplicitous co-operation with the authorities to the Gülen movement and the U.S. government, Ünğan is seeking to flatter the present judiciary and win himself a plea deal as well.

In this trial, Ünğan faces charges of ordering the killing of Zindashti’s 19-year-old daughter and her driver in 2014 the week after two tonnes of heroin belonging to Turkish drug gangs were seized in Greece en route to Europe.

The Turkish press reported that it was Zindashti who had tipped off the DEA and assisted in the capture of members of the drug cartel.

Ünğan said at a previous hearing that other drug smugglers had carried out the hit.

Two months after those killings, the two men who are believed to have carried them out were shot dead themselves in an Istanbul restaurant.

Zindashti was also suspected of having had another Iranian-origin gangster involved in the drugs deal assassinated in Dubai last year.

As for Kaya, he was arrested in 2009 as part of the Ergenekon investigations on the basis of anonymous testimony from a witness codenamed Terazi. Zindashti later claimed to have been Terazi.

In 2012, Kaya was arrested again on charges of bribery and influencing the judiciary in order to get drug lords out of jail – and again, it was Zindashti who was acting as secret witness.

However these vendettas end, they are likely to have a further chilling effect across the Atlantic: while U.S. authorities are likely to see consulate worker Topuz as a hero in the war on drugs, Turkish authorities may see these claims that he has co-operated with Gülenist officials as further ammunition in his ongoing court case.