Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu accused Colombia of concocting a piece of pulp fiction against Turkey over five tons of cocaine seized in Colombia, during the ministry’s budget negotiations in parliament on November 18. When speaking about Colombia, Soylu used the Turkish word “denilen” (called or so-called), which is used to express condescension.
In June 2020 Colombia’s narcotics police announced they had seized almost five tons of cocaine. The drugs were in two containers that were to travel by sea from the port of Buenaventura to Turkey and had a street value of $265 million.
Carlos Holmes Trujillo, the late Colombian minister of defense, announced on his official Twitter account that 4.9 tons of cocaine had been seized by Colombian narcotics units.
The anti-narcotics director, General Jorge Luis Ramírez, said when the crumb rubber cargo was being inspected, a dog detected the cocaine, which was hidden in 1,733 white sacks weighing 30 kilograms each, for a total of 4,928 kilos.
Preliminary investigations indicated that the drug was intended to be transported along the Colombian Pacific coast to Central America and later to Turkey. The approximate street value of $265 million in the European market would give a tremendous boost to the finances of the illegal organizations that tried to traffic the drug, Ramírez added.
The Columbian Defense Ministry also announced that the seized cocaine was bound for Turkey. This announcement in and of itself had important implications since Turkey had never been a transit or destination country for cocaine.
While the incident was forgotten by the public thanks to Turkey, which traditionally has an agenda filled with scandals and breaking news, Sedat Peker, a convicted mob boss and former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, targeted Minister Soylu in June 2021, claiming that the Turkish authorities had not cooperated with their Colombian counterparts regarding the cocaine destined for the port of İzmir. Following Peker’s allegations, the opposition parties got involved and began to question why the police had failed carry out an operation against accomplices in Turkey.
Peker, who named Soylu and his associates as influential people who were involved in facilitating cocaine trafficking through Turkey, had partnered with Soylu for years in running criminal syndicates.
Minutes of the parliamentary debate on November 18:Soylu Colombia
Soylu stated on Habertürk TV in June 2021 that they were in cooperation with the Colombian authorities and that Turkish police could not travel to Colombia because flights were not operating due to the pandemic. However, he left unanswered the question of why the police did not go by private jet, frequently used by state institutions in Turkey.
On January 11, 2022, approximately 20 months after the drugs were seized in Colombia, the Turkish police announced that 14 people had been detained in Turkey in line with information and documents conveyed by the Colombian police, adding that Colombian authorities, however, had not yet responded to Turkey’s requests for judicial assistance.
Peker, who shocked Turkey with his YouTube videos viewed by millions at the time, continued to claim regarding the detentions that the real criminals had not been caught.
Soylu, who appeared before lawmakers for budget negotiations last week, made detailed statements on the Colombian cocaine case when he was again accused of covering up a crime. According to the minister, the Colombian police were contacted as soon as the cocaine was seized but had never responded. However, in the police statement of January 2022, the information and documents sent by the Colombian police were mentioned. Soylu later corrected what he said and claimed that the Colombian police did not share information with them until June 2021.
According to Soylu, only 10 sacks were taken as samples from 1,733 sacks inside the containers and that only 189 grams of cocaine were found in them. He claimed that the total amount of five tons seized, as announced by the Colombian police, was merely an assumption based on the samples. Claiming that opposition deputies had taken the side of Colombia in order to accuse Turkey, Soylu said the incident was “nothing but pulp fiction created by the country called Colombia.”
Minister Soylu has been harshly criticized by the opposition for having photos and selfies taken with a number of drug dealers and criminals. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition party, continuously says that Soylu posing with drug lords prevents the police from fighting drug trafficking.
Soylu has denied the allegations, including a claim that Turkish police were lenient with Balkan drug lords. He claims he was personally involved in extraditing gang leader Jovan Vukotic to Serbia in 2018. However, it was revealed that Vukotic had returned to Turkey at the time Soylu told reporters the gang leader was in Serbia. He was assassinated in Istanbul on September 9.
It wouldn’t be right to claim that Soylu’s anger towards Colombia is Turkey’s official position. Former Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez visited Turkey in May when the two countries signed a memorandum stating that relations had reached the level of strategic partnership as well as several agreements. Erdoğan told reporters that Turkey and Colombia would also increase their cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime, at a joint press conference following the signing ceremony.