Hakan Ayik had no idea what he was getting himself into.
The 42-year-old Australian drug kingpin with links to the Comanchero bikies and Asian triads thought he was doing a favour to criminal associates when he passed along an encrypted communications app.
Ayik and New Zealander Duax Ngakuru were lieutenants to Comanchero boss Mick Hawi, who was shot dead as he left a gym in Sydney’s south in February 2018.
For years, Australian law enforcement has believed Ngakuru, with his friend Ayik, had been part of a global syndicate behind some of the world’s biggest drug deals.
Ayik did not know that he had fallen head first into a trap set by Australian Federal Police officers and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Ayik had been handed a device by undercover agents who told him it was the perfect way to communicate with criminal associates and arrange drug imports without detection. Their conversations were untraceable, he was told.
In reality, the FBI and the AFP would be watching every conversation.
Drug kingpin urged to hand himself in
Ayik, who was the first person given access to the app named Anom, did what police had hoped he would do. He passed it on to every underworld figure he knew and provided police with access to 25 million messages regarding criminal plots.
On Tuesday, when news broke that police had carried out the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest crime bust, Ayik’s name was front and centre.
It will be whispered among networks around the world, authorities say, given the 42-year-old is the “principal distributor of the Anom handset”.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said Ayik, who has been living in Turkey, was a marked man and should turn himself into authorities.
“Given the threat he faces, he’s best off handing himself into us as soon as he can,” Kershaw said.
“He was one of the coordinators of this particular device, so he’s essentially set up his own colleagues.”
The Daily Telegraph, which broke the story, reports that Ayik was a Sydney bikie associate who fled overseas in 2010 to avoid arrest in relation to a $230 million heroin importation.
He was arrested in Cyprus but escaped and was last seen in Turkey. An Interpol red notice for his arrest remains active.
The AFP on Tuesday announced that 4000 officers raided properties across the country and 200 offenders were charged. More than $45m in assets and cash were seized.
Officers seized 27 firearms – including two Glock pistols and a 50-calibre sniper rifle – as well as luxury vehicles including a Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren and Bentley.
Ayik a 'primary target' for Operation Ironside
The Telegraph quoted an AFP senior investigator who said Ayik was “identified” by authorities as a “primary target … because of his standing within the underworld”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the international sting was a “heavy blow against organised crime” and a “watershed moment for law enforcement”.
“Operation Ironside puts Australia at the forefront of this fight against dangerous, organised criminals who peddle in human misery, and ultimately it will keep our communities and Australians safer.”
The Prime Minister described Tuesday as a “proud day” for the families of officers who took part, often at great sacrifice.
“You can be very proud of the work they’re doing today, and I’m incredibly proud of all those who are wearing blue in this country today,” he said.
Kershaw revealed the ongoing operation had already led to 224 offenders being charged, around $45m in assets and cash seized, six clandestine laboratories shut down and 21 threats to kill acted upon.
Mass shooting foiled by huge sting
Law enforcement had also managed to apprehend an offender planning a mass shooting, he revealed.
“They were using a machine gun potentially at a cafe where people would have been no doubt harmed,” he said.
“We were able to, with the co-operation of that particular state police force, take that individual before they’re able to do that.”
The idea to give law enforcement real-time access to criminal messages via an encrypted app was first hatched over beers between two Australian investigators and FBI agents in 2018.
“Some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers,” Kershaw said.
But he warned Anom was a “small platform” compared to other encrypted apps, which continued to pose a significant challenge to law enforcement.
Speaking alongside the Prime Minister, FBI legal attache Anthony Russo said international co-operation was increasingly important as crime transversed borders.
“The threats we face are too diverse and too complex for any one organisation to tackle alone.
“Over the years, we have learned that working together is not just the best option, it’s the only option. Partnerships are at the core of everything we do.”
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