Bonus Read: Hunt­ing the Co­caine Crim­i­nals

From the docks in Rot­ter­dam, the trail led to the beaches of the Costa del Sol

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

CON­TAINER 6483504

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.


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.


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’

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