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Lebanon-Venezuela kingpin detained in Turkey's 'third largest' cocaine bust

The Turkish Interior Minister reported some 1,340 pounds of cocaine seized in the operation, which also included the arrest of 13 people.
Turkish cocaine bust

ANKARA — Turkey on Thursday announced a massive cocaine bust, with 13 people detained, including a prominent Lebanese-Venezuelan drug kingpin.

Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said the police had seized 608 kilograms of the drug (roughly 1,340 pounds) in raids in the northwestern provinces of Tekirdag and Kocaeli as well as the Mediterranean resort of Antalya.

The bust marks "the third-largest amount of cocaine seized in a single operation in Turkey," Yerlikaya wrote on the social media platform X. The largest cocaine seizure thus far was in 2021, when police confiscated more than a ton of cocaine in the port city of Mersin.

Some 13 people, including four foreign nationals, were detained in the raids, Yerlikaya said. He identified the alleged ringleader as Dani Talal Awad Abu Shanab, a dual Lebanese-Venezuelan national. He did not identify the other detainees.

Roughly 580 kilograms of the seized cocaine were found in liquid form, and an additional 20.5 kilograms were disguised in fertilizer, the Turkish minister said. Officials also uncovered more than 830 kilograms of chemical substances used for processing narcotics as well as a precision scale and a press.

Authorities established that the smugglers had shipped the narcotics from a warehouse in Tekirdag to Antalya, where they planned to sell some of the cocaine on the street, Yerlikaya said.

Dozens of drug kingpins have been arrested in police operations since Yerlikaya assumed his post in June, prompting speculation that before he took the job, authorities had deliberately scaled back efforts against illicit money in a bid to ease the country’s hard-currency crunch. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, former leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, had accused the government “of turning Turkey into a money laundromat of drug kingpins” in 2022.

Among the kingpins arrested under Yerlikaya is Nenad Petrak, of Croatian origin, who had been one of the most wanted drug smugglers in Europe. He was caught in Istanbul in November.

The Financial Action Task Force, an international watchdog, gray-listed Turkey in 2021 for failing to tackle money laundering and terrorism financing.