Bonus Read: Hunting the Cocaine Criminals
From the docks in Rotterdam, the trail led to the beaches of the Costa del Sol
JUNE 2015: MÁLAGA, COSTA DEL SOL, SPAIN
As he strolled along the packed tourist beach enjoying the sunshine, Anthony Dennis was suddenly aware that he was being stared at. Nearby was a giant four-metre digital screen mounted on a flatbed truck. As he walked closer he saw 16 faces on the screen under the legend: “Some of the most wanted criminals in Spain. Help us find them.” Then the picture on the screen switched to show just one of the faces. It was his. “Wanted/Se Busca Anthony Michael Dennis. Conspiracy to traffic cocaine.”
Just 1.6 metres tall and with no distinguishing features beyond a small scar on the right of his forehead, 48-year-old Anthony Dennis would have been easy to lose in a crowd, but not now. Diving into one of the bars or restaurants nearby would not provide him with sanctuary, either. The picture and ‘most wanted’ message could be sent to anybody inside with a Bluetooth-enabled phone.
The screen truck, which tours areas popular with British holidaymakers such as Benidorm, Málaga and Puerto Banús, is part of Operation Captura, run by the UK’s National Crime Agency ( NCA) and crime- fighting charity Crimestoppers, in conjunction with Spain’s Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil. Captura was set up in 2006 to hunt down British fugitives who traditionally go on the run to what UK tabloid newspapers call the ‘Costa del Crime’.
By the time Anthony Dennis’s face was flashed up on screen, Captura had already snared 68 of 86 of Britain’s most-wanted fugitives. “We don’t give up looking for them. We bring them back to face justice,” says David Allen, head of the UK International Crime Bureau at the NCA. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes.”
Unmasked in Spain, and with a European arrest warrant on him, Anthony Dennis went on the run again, but when it came to places to hide, he had few options. In late July 2015 in a village north of London called London Colney, Sergeant Chris Dyer of the NCA was watching a detached house in a gated community. The curtains had been drawn for days.
Eventually, Dyer’s patient surveillance was rewarded when a woman arrived and went inside the house. He recognised her as Anthony Dennis’s wife. There was, however, no sign of Dennis at the property. Finally, on the afternoon of August 4, a stiflingly hot day, Dennis, his wife and a child in a pushchair emerged from the house.
It was the moment Dyer had been waiting for. He and a colleague got out of his car and followed the trio into a nearby park, where he arrested Anthony Dennis for his part in a global multi-million-Euro cocaine trafficking conspiracy.
It marked the end of a pan-European police investigation that had begun in Rotterdam three years earlier.
JULY 2012: DISTRICT COURT BUILDING, ROTTERDAM
The modern red- brick building that houses the office of Jirko Patist, national prosecutor at the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, is just along from Rotterdam’s iconic Erasmus Bridge and overlooks the still waters
of Rijnhaven, one of the city’s historic old docks. In the near distance a thicket of tall spidery cranes in Rotterdam’s modern port work 24/7, loading and unloading containers from the 30,000 seagoing vessels and 110,000 inland vessels that visit every year.
Stretching across more than 40 kilometres and covering 12,500 hectares of land and water, Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port. It is also at the centre of Europe’s cocaine trade. Dutch police estimate that between 25 and 50 per cent of cocaine consumed in western and central Europe is now
smuggled through Rotterdam’s docks, overtaking the Belgian port of Antwerp as the top entry point for the drug.
Patist, a youthful-looking 44-yearold lawyer, had spent six years leading successful investigations into major drug crime in the port. It was a warm summer’s day when the tall, curly-haired prosecutor took a call from the special unit of the Dienst Nationale Recherche ( DNR), the Dutch National Crime Squad, which handles confidential informants (CIs). Not all CI leads that cross Patist’s desk are sufficient in themselves for him to mount an investigation but the authenticity and detail surrounding this one piqued his interest.
“Please send me a full report,” he told the DNR. In the Netherlands it is prosecutors such as Patist who lead and manage police investigations. The police report arrived a few days later and Patist went before a judge where he argued for a wiretap and a covert CCTV camera. “There is no other way to gather the evidence I need,” he told the judge.
CAFÉ DE KETEL, DAMSTRAAT 53, ROTTERDAM
Located on the corner of Damstraat and Oranje boom straat in the Feijenoord area of Rotterdam, close to the Nieuwe Maas, the river that runs through the heart of the city, Café de
Ketel was not the kind of place to pop into for a casual beer. The front door was locked and entry to the small bar was strictly by invitation only.
The café was run by two brothers of Turkish origin, Ugur and Ufuk Çamdere. The confidential informant had alleged that they were importing heroin from Turkey into the Netherlands.
Footage from the covert camera that Patist had installed showed the same people visiting Café de Ketel at all hours of the day and night. Conversational traffic on the café’s phones was incessant, conducted in a mixture of Dutch, Turkish and English. DNR detectives told Patist that Café de Ketel was owned by a company supplying scaffolding to ship-repair companies. It was just a front.
As he read the transcripts from the wiretaps, Patist smiled. The brothers talked not about scaffolding but about cargoes of ‘girls’, ‘Porsches’ and ‘wine’ on calls to countries such as Colombia, Brazil and Panama. One conversation ended: “Opting for Rotterdam means opting for limitless possibilities. Make it happen.”
Patist’s suspicion that the Çamderes and their associates were talking in code about drugs was confirmed when Turkish police – not renowned for being cooperative with their Western counterparts – revealed that Ugur Çamdere had been sentenced to six years in Turkey for narcotics offences and that they would like him to return to serve his time.
Another frequent visitor to Café de Ketel was Erol Soytürk. He had no evident legal source of income and seemed to serve as a messenger and fixer for the Çamdere brothers, who spent most of their time in the café. Not only did Soytürk organise the transport of people, visiting many addresses around the city, he also appeared to be an investor. Patist brought in local police to tail him.
“As the intelligence from the cameras and wiretaps grew, the picture became much more complex, but they only revealed a certain amount,” Patist explains.
Patist returned to the judge and asked for permission for a covert recording probe to be installed in one of the rooms in the café where the business was being done. It was known as ‘the smoking room’.
“From the probe we knew for sure
The covert camera showed the same people visiting Café de Ketel at all hours of the day and night. Conversational traffic on the café’s phones was incessant
that the Çamdere brothers and a growing number of suspects were involved not just in heroin but also cocaine, synthetic drugs and cannabis farms. They were major brokers who also seemed to have access to heavy firearms.”
It was also clear that shipments of drugs would come into Rotterdam stashed inside legitimate containers. But with over 12 million containers coming into the port every year, discovering which ones contained drugs was virtually impossible.
APRIL 5, 2013: TONY ARRIVES IN ROTTERDAM
On April 5, 2013, Erol Soytürk welcomed his friend Tony to Café de Ketel. Tony, a British man in his 30s, was a frequent visitor around this time. He could be heard talking to Ugur and Soytürk about an incoming container ship. “We have 60,” Ugur Çamdere said. “Two bags, or three bags of 20?” Tony asked.
Soytürk, who was in charge of shipments coming into and out of the port, talked about trading in ‘Audi’ and ‘Koning’, which would be ‘ripped on’ to a legitimate cargo container at the port of embarkation and ‘ripped off’ again in Rotterdam by corrupt dockers in the pay of the Çamdere brothers.
Breaking off from the matter in hand, Soytürk offered to sell Tony the formula for making MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy.
Tony was accompanied at times by another, slightly older British man, who was also heavily involved in the shipment, which they frequently referred to as ‘Rolex Reina 7’.
By now Jirko Patist had a core team of 20 DNR detectives, with up to 100 officers from other local and specialist units gathering evidence on half a dozen different consignments involving Ugur and Ufuk Çamdere and Dutch conspirators.
Hundreds of hours of transcripts from Café de Ketel were being pored over by the Dutch prosecutors. An increasing number of addresses in Rotterdam were under round- theclock surveillance. But when it came to identifying the British conspirators, Patist decided that he needed to get some help.
NATIONAL CRIME AGENCY, LONDON
Chris Dyer and fellow investigator Mike Lakey, who work on major cases for the NCA, recognised the British men’s accents as being from Essex in the East of England. Viewing footage from Café de Ketel, they managed to identify ‘Tony’ as Anthony Wilson from the Essex town of Harlow.
Aged 36, 1.8 metres tall, muscular, well-built with a skinhead haircut, Wilson had convictions for petty crime.
The other man was Anthony Dennis, aged 47, and also from Essex. He had a conviction for money laundering. Wilson lived in a modest four-
bedroom detached house worth about € 380,000. “Nothing special,” says Dyer.
Dennis had a much grander house worth € 700,000, tucked discreetly down a quiet country lane. “There was no doubt who had the more successful criminal career,” Dyer adds.
Lakey and two colleagues set to work transcribing hundreds of hours of Café de Ketel tapes sent over by Jirko Patist’s office in Rotterdam.
“Our one’s got Rolex Reina 7,” they heard Dennis telling Ugur Çamdere.
“What does that mean beyond Rolex being a watch and reina being Spanish for queen?” Dyer asked.
When Anthony Dennis was at the café he led the discussions. “He had a lot of knowledge about law enforcement techniques,” says Dyer. At one point Dennis could be heard asking the Çamderes: “They couldn’t have got a recording device in here, could they?”
“We live upstairs,” they reassured him. “It would not be possible.”
Dennis, Wilson, the Çamderes and Soytürk could be heard talking frequently about ‘the box’ and ‘the bags’.
“We reckoned that ‘ box’ meant container,” Dyer explains. Then they heard Wilson say: “It’s INKU 6483504.” It was a traceable container number. The listed contents of the shipment were chopped-up rubber tyres bound
“We knew the Çamdere brothers were involved not just in heroin but also cocaine, synthetic drugs and cannabis farms. They were major brokers”
for a legitimate company in Essen, Germany, that would turn them into wheels for wheelie bins and sports mats.
Concealed inside would be 67 kg of cocaine with a wholesale price of €32,000 a kilo. At €2.14 million, the conspirators could not resist boasting about the profits they would make.
The Çamderes, Wilson and Dennis had set up the shipment with a dealer in Brazil. Patist called his Brazilian counterparts. They told him that container 6483504 had left the port of Pecem on a Panamanian-flagged ship, the MSC Canberra, on March 15.
It arrived in the Panamanian port of Cristóbal on March 23, where it was transferred to another ship, the CSAV Llanquihue, registered in Liberia. It was now on its way to Europe. But container 6483504 was not bound
for Rotterdam. The CSAV Llanquihue docked in Antwerp on April 29, 2013.
“Taking it out is not as easy as expected,” Ugur Çamdere told Anthony Dennis the following day. “Our boys cannot work beyond their shift to pull it out because that will cause suspicion.”
There was mounting panic inside Café de Ketel. It turned out that the Çamderes’ ‘boys’ were still searching frantically for container 6483504 and had not yet found it. It was due to leave by road for Essen on May 1. “Today is the last day, or else you’ll have to follow the truck,” Ufuk Çamdere told Wilson.
The conspirators had got hold of the bill of lading, so they knew the container’s destination and the identity of the truck. The Çamderes, Dennis and Wilson discussed intercepting it with roadblocks as it crossed rail tracks near the Essen industrial estate that would be its final destination. They would pose as rail workers in yellow fluorescent jackets, break open the container and remove the drugs.
The truck and container left Antwerp docks on time for the 198 km journey to Essen, its driver completely unaware that he was carrying something far more sinister than shredded rubber tyres.
Hijacking the truck was proving too complex. There was not enough time to set it up. Finally Soytürk said, “I’m going to Essen to find it.” By May 4 he had phoned Café de Ketel to say he had “given up hope” of finding the container.
That was because Chris Dyer had called in Essen police on May 3. When the container arrived at the recycling factory they opened it and
The truck and container left Antwerp docks – its driver unaware that he was carrying something far more sinister than shredded rubber tyres
found carryalls containing 60 packets of cocaine sealed with labels marked, ‘Rolex Reina 7’.
“Not only had Wilson and Dennis lost their drugs,” says Mike Lakey, “they and the Çamderes owed their South American supplier €892,000.”
The men were in deep trouble, a fact underlined when one of the Çamderes’ partners, who was retrieving drugs from containers in Rotterdam, was gunned down and killed over a missing shipment from another transaction as he made his way to Café de Ketel.
THE NET TIGHTENS
Dennis and Wilson had both lost a consignment and were now being threatened with violent reprisal and kidnapping by their supplier.
But that did not stop Dennis and especially Wilson continuing to visit Café de Ketel. Between April and August 2013 Dyer and Lakey established that Wilson visited the café at least 30 times to talk to the Çamdere brothers about setting up new shipments.
Relations were not as convivial as they had been before. Dennis was keeping his distance as a result. Wilson obviously had no idea that every word he spoke was being recorded and transcribed by the NCA back in the UK.
Jirko Patist’s team, meanwhile, was working its way through 1000 hours of covert surveillance. Three hundred hours went to Dyer and Lakey, which they boiled down to 150, which could form the guts of a case for the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service to take action against Wilson and Dennis.
“Without the intelligence from our Dutch colleagues it would have been very difficult to prosecute them in the UK,” Dyer says.
Patist did not want any arrests yet. He still had a way to go on his parallel investigations into six other drug shipments run by the Çamdere brothers. Towards the end of October 2013, Chris Dyer got word from Patist. It was time to bring the conspiracy to an end.
OCTOBER 29, 2013: THE POLICE MOVE IN
On October 29, Dutch police raided Café de Ketel and a dozen addresses in Rotterdam, many of them visited by Soytürk. They battered their way through front doors or sawed through them with chainsaws.
In a safe house at 146 Eric Kropstraat they found one of the suspects, Alpaj Bülbülkaja. He said he was just a cleaner. He claimed a blue coat hanging on a stand in the hall belonged to somebody called ‘Bilal’. It was not a name that had ever featured in the Café de Ketel intelligence. What’s more, Patist’s team had footage of Bülbülkaja wearing the coat by the café.
In one of the pockets was a remote control device. When the police pressed it a wall slid aside to reveal an arsenal of heavy weaponry. Alpaj Bülbülkaja was a cleaner of guns, and 146 Eric Kropstraat would be known thereafter as ‘The James Bond House’.
Jirko Patist was delighted with the day’s haul. He had seven men in custody – four Turks and three Dutch – along with handguns, assault rifles, hundreds of mobile phones, a cocaine press, money-counting machines and €500,000 in cash.
Simultaneously in England the NCA was raiding Dennis’s and Wilson’s houses before they could destroy any evidence.
Chris Dyer and Mike Lakey interviewed Anthony Wilson at Harlow police station. He denied knowing the Çamderes.
Dyer showed him a photograph of Café de Ketel. “I don’t remember going there.” He could not explain why he had so many mobile phones.
Why did he visit Rotterdam so often?
In one of the coat pockets was a remote control device. When the police pressed it a wall slid aside to reveal an arsenal of heavy weaponry
“I support Feyenoord,” he said calmly. His visits did not tally with the Rotterdam football team’s home matches.
In subsequent interviews they asked Wilson about INKU 6483504. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Dyer played him the tape of Wilson discussing the shipment and quoting the number. “And what about Rolex Reina 7?” “No comment.” When the NCA raided Anthony Dennis’s house he was not at home. His wife told them: “I haven’t seen him in over a year.”
“We discovered that he either owned or had owned a property in Spain, which is why we put him on Operation Captura,” Chris Dyer explains. When Dyer arrested him nine months later Dennis was indignant: “Having my face down there on the beach was way over the top,” he complained.
Handcuffing him, Chris Dyer replied, “It got you back here, didn’t it?”
Dennis was the last piece of the Café de Ketel jigsaw. The extensive investigation had been a textbook example of pan-European police cooperation and a determined Dutch prosecutor out to tackle the drug gangs who use the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp to flood Europe with drugs.
When asked how he got a probe into the ‘smoking room’ of the Café de Ketel, Jirko Patist smiles: “I am not at liberty to say! But what I can tell you is that I wish we had an Operation Captura to round up all the Dutch criminals that have fled to Spain.”
On November 18, 2015, at the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court, in London, Anthony Dennis was jailed for 13 years and four months and Anthony Wilson for 12 years. Standing side by side in the dock, the two accomplices did not acknowledge each other or exchange a word. There had been too many spoken in the Café de Ketel, which has now shut down. In March 2016 at the District Court in Rotterdam, Ugur Çamdere was sentenced to eight years, and his brother Ufuk to six. Erol Soytürk received four years and Alpaj Bülbülkaja 28 months.
Anthony Dennis’s face is displayed on a digital advertising van to curious onlookers on a Spanish beach
Café de Ketel, focus of the investigation. Inset: Anthony Dennis (left) and Anthony Wilson captured in surveillance footage
Anthony Dennis (left) and Anthony Wilson (centre) both received long prison sentences for their part in the operation. Right: packets of the cocaine labelled ‘Rolex Reina 7’