Turkish-Australian crime boss key to arrest of more than 800 criminals worldwide
A Turkish-Australian crime boss became the centre of a massive global crime sting after he unwittingly helped distribute copies of an FBI-run encrypted messaging app.
More than 800 suspected criminals were arrested worldwide in a three-year operation that was run jointly between Australian police and the FBI.
Hakan Ayik, a fugitive and alleged drug dealer from Australia, was responsible for spreading the messaging app - known as AN0M - after he was given a phone by undercover officers, allowing police to monitor conversations about drug smuggling, money laundering and even planned executions.
According to the BBC, around 12,000 encrypted devices were used by around 300 criminal syndicates in more than 100 countries.
Ayik originally fled Australian police in 2010 while in Hong Kong, allegedly in connection to a $230m heroin importation bust. He is currently thought to be living with his Dutch wife in Istanbul, where he secretly runs the Kings Cross Hotel.
Born in Sydney to Turkish migrant parents, Ayik was often called the "Facebook gangster" in Australian media due to his tendencies to show off his luxurious lifestyle and heavily built and tattooed body on social media.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw on Tuesday said Ayik should hand himself in as his complicity in the bust of hundreds of criminals would put his life in danger.
"He was one of the coordinators of this particular device. So he's essentially set up his own colleagues," he said.
"And my view would be the sooner he hands himself in… the better for him and his family."
The operation, which was conducted across more than a dozen countries, involved the seizure of cash, weapons, luxury vehicles and drugs, including eight tonnes of cocaine, 250 guns and more than $48m in currencies and cryptocurrencies.
Police originally conceived the idea for the operation after two major encrypted messaging apps were taken down by law enforcement agencies, leaving criminal networks on the lookout for a new one.