Who is Hakan Ayik?
Authorities have been hunting Hakan Ayik for more than a decade. Now for the first time we have uncovered his life of luxury living in the open on the border between east and west.
Hakan Ayik Wikipedia, Biography
Australia’s most wanted organized crime boss then does what he has done so many times before in his decade on the run. Hakan “the Facebook gangster” Ayik turns and walks away.
The online images suggested that as long suspected by the police, Ayik, the Australian son of Turkish migrants, was living somewhere in Turkey. But how was he managing to stay under the radar? Where exactly was he hiding out? And what was his alias?
The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes embarked on a hunt to answer these questions. The effort, which included sending Turkish sources into Ayik’s suspected business, was more than an attempt to expose the whereabouts of a man who had journeyed from local gangster to one of the kingpins of Australian crime.
It also told the story of how serious transnational organised crime has evolved in recent years into a threat to national security – albeit one that has largely slipped from the political and public radar.
Former and serving police officials say high-level criminals are making billions by exploiting Australia’s porous borders and insatiable appetite for drugs. They are taking advantage of under-resourced policing agencies who struggle to counter targets who have more money, better technology and access to safe havens overseas.
Officials also say Australia’s prioritisation of the fight against terror, cyber crime and foreign interference, as well as the impact of the pandemic on government budgets, has threatened law enforcement’s ability to meaningfully combat drug importation.
Even though he has been on the run for years, tracked by the federal police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Ayik is suspected of making himself the most prolific Australian drug broker in decades.
With success, however, has come hubris. Ayik earned his moniker – “the Facebook gangster” – in 2010 by promoting a flashy lifestyle on his social media pages at the same time as he was a key target of what was at the time Australia’s biggest organised crime probe.
Could social media now help expose his hiding place as Australia’s most wanted gangster?
A crime boss is born
In 2009, Hakan Ayik posted vision to Facebook that would come to define the media and public view of the then 31-year-old. His videos depicted the picture of a modern gangster: a gym-buffed body decked out in designer clothes, driving expensive cars and wearing $300,000 watches. He partied and travelled the world with prostitutes and bikies, was seen in Hong Kong, Mumbai and at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Ayik’s real story was more complex. Detectives who watched his every move as a drug trafficker in the 2000s describe a grimmer existence in Sydney’s working class southern suburbs. His father died when he was young and several family members struggled with drug addiction.
Ayik’s own bulky physique was partly the product of steroid use. These drugs, along with his constant liaisons with prostitutes, left him with persistent health concerns.
From his budding criminal crew he sought total loyalty, but he did not give it in return. Doing Ayik’s dirty work landed both his cousin, Erkan Dogan, and brother, Erkan Ayik in prison as Hakan himself avoided doing time.
By 2008, his ruthlessness was paying dividends. Ayik was the owner of two watches worth half a million dollars, as well as karaoke bars and brothels in Sydney and Canberra. He was also firmly on the radar of federal and state policing agencies for his suspected involvement in a series of drug importations worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
A police intelligence report that year stated that several of Ayik’s high school friends had gone on to hold high ranks in the Comancheros outlaw motorcycle gang. While Ayik himself wasn’t interested in being a bikie, he believed the group could aid his growing business.
“Ayik is not publicly a member of the Comancheros, but he has a lot of influence over what happens in the club while keeping a low profile,” the 2008 NSW Crime Commission (NSWCC) intelligence files stated, describing him as a “large scale” drug importer. He was also one of the first suspected drug brokers to grasp the utility of using warring bikie groups to work together to distribute drugs across Australia.
The NSWCC report hinted at something more too: Ayik was smart and inventive. And he appeared intent on changing how Australian drug traffickers plied their trade.
Doors and pipelines
As policing agencies began more closely watching Ayik, they spotted something unusual for an Australian crook. The 31-year-old was using his friendship with a mid-level Chinese Triad crime gang member, Man “Mark” Kong Ho, to negotiate access to a drug pipeline controlled by the most powerful Triad syndicate in the world, a group called The Company and which had drug labs in southern China, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.
The introduction was not without its downsides.
The following year, The Company kidnapped Ho after an importation Ayik and Ho had organised was seized by police. Police phone taps suggest Ayik paid a $300,000 ransom to ensure his panicked friend was released.
This event may have prompted Ayik to expand his ambitions yet again and cut out the middle-man. When police covertly downloaded a mobile phone in his luggage at Sydney airport in late 2009, they discovered a selfie of Ayik at a pharmaceutical laboratory in India and documents outlining the purchase of vast quantities of drug making chemicals. The evidence suggested Ayik was planning his own industrial-scale “super” synthetic drug laboratory on the sub-continent.
Ayik was also adept at developing what serving and former policing officials describe as a “doors” – openings in Australia’s border security that crime groups use to import drugs. Ayik’s “doors” include multiple port and airport workers with federal government approved security passes.
He also cultivated contacts inside government departments. In 2009, NSW Police charged one of their civilian employees – who had access to sensitive police intelligence detailing the work of several agencies targeting Ayik – with stealing files that were later leaked to Ayik’s Comanchero associates. That same year, phone taps captured Ayik directing a prison officer to pass messages to jailed bikies.
By 2009, Ayik’s network was also allegedly directing a corrupt Tongan customs official to assist with importations. The official was arrested after New Zealand and Tongan police discovered 40 kilograms of liquid methylamphetamine, or ice, during a raid on his home. Former investigators aware of the Tongan seizure said police intelligence and phone taps suggested Ayik had used his “doors” to transport the drugs from South Africa via air freight to Tonga, where they were to be shipped to Australia.
Ayik’s phone calls and social media posts were secretly hoovered up between 2008 and 2010 by the Australian Crime Commission and federal police as part of an Operation codenamed Hoffman. It gained evidence implicating Ayik in a 200kg heroin importation and domestic drug trafficking involving train and air freight and light planes.
Then in 2010, an Age, Herald and Four Corners investigation exposed Ayik and his online posing publicly for the first time in a program profiling a “technologically savvy and highly mobile modern Australian underworld that is much harder to police and is capable of amassing great wealth with relative ease”.
It was an accurate description in 2010, but also proved prescient, anticipating how his criminal career would continue to develop.
In August that year, as Operation Hoffman investigators began to arrest figures in his syndicate, Ayik decided it was too risky to return from a trip to Hong Kong. Soon after this, police issued an Interpol warrant for his arrest.
Ayik responded with typical flair. As he moved throughout Europe and the Middle East, he wrote in a social media post taunting police to “Catch me if you can.”
On the run
Ayik was next heard from in November 2010 when local media reported he had fled guards at a border crossing in Cyprus. He was arrested a month later by Cypriot authorities, who found him carrying drug production equipment and eight mobile phones. Placed on bail, he fled again.
Meanwhile in Australia, NSW authorities seized Ayik’s Harley Davidson, his apartment in Sydney’s Chinatown and his shareholdings in several companies. It did little to slow him down.
From offshore and approaching his 40th birthday, the alumnus of Sydney’s James Cook Boys High refocused on his efforts on reshaping the infrastructure of Australian organised crime, making the job of stretched state and federal crime agencies even harder.
Official sources, who are not authorised to speak publicly, say Ayik is suspected of introducing entire encrypted communication platforms to Australia which allowed criminals to send messages without fear of interception. When the first platform he introduced, Phantom Secure, was taken out by the FBI and Australian police in 2018, Comanchero Marco Coffen brought another called Cipher. Ayik then introduced a third, Anon.
Latest Updates and Arrests
Australia’s biggest ever police bust has seen not only seen the arrests of the Who’s Who of the global criminal underworld, but yielded an extraordinary haul of 3.77 tonnes of drugs, $45 million in cash, guns, luxury cars, motorbikes and watches.
The country’s Federal Police released pictures of the wealth, firepower and even taste in gangster movies of those arrested during sweeping raids across the country, the U.S., Britain and wider Europe after the alleged criminals were covertly monitored for three years using an encrypted communication app called ‘AN0M’.
They allegedly used the app, secretly developed by the FBI, to message each other around the world, unaware everything they said and did was being intercepted by FBI special agents and the Australian Federal Police.
An anonymous blogger known only as ‘canyouguess67’ posted an article warning users to keep off ANOM for their ‘own safety’, Daily Mail Australia can reveal.
‘STAY AWAY FROM ANOM IF YOU VALUE YOUR PRIVACY AND SAFETY,’ the blogger wrote in an article, which has since been pulled down.
‘THEY ARE COMPROMISED, LIARS AND YOUR DATA IS RUNNING VIA USA’. The hacker added that law enforcement agencies had been tipped off.
However, it seems few alleged criminals in the sights of law enforcement did a cursory Google search into the ‘encrypted’ phone and app platform.
The Australian Federal Police announced on Tuesday that it had seized 3.7 tonnes of drugs, 104 weapons and almost $45million in cash as part of the operation – which was three years in the making.
The alleged offenders are linked to the Australian-based Italian mafia – known as the Ndrangheta – as well as outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organised crime figures.
Police have charged 224 alleged offenders with 525 charges, shut down six clandestine laboratories and acted on 21 threats to kill, including saving a family of five.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the AFP operation, known as Operation Ironside, had struck a ‘heavy blow’ against organised crime.
‘The operation puts Australia at the forefront of the fight against criminals who peddle in human misery and ultimately, it will keep our communities and Australians safe,’ he said on Tuesday.
‘Illicit drug use ruins lives and fuels organised crime.’
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said federal agents had been in the ‘back pockets’ of criminals through the encryption app.
‘The FBI had the lead on this. We provided the technical capability to decrypt those messages,’ he said.
‘Some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers.’
Ninja Warrior 2017 contestant Sopiea Kong was among those arrested. The 33-year-old was charged last week following a raid at a Kangaroo Point home, where police allegedly seized 154g of meth.
Kong, who was also allegedly in possession of $2,030 cash and a revolver, was granted bail and will appear in court on June 28.
Former Bachelorette star Samuel Minkin, who appeared on Becky and Elly Miles’ season of the dating show, was charged with possessing a large commercial quantity of cannabis after police stopped a van in Byron Bay last month.
Former Bandito bikie Benjamin Joseph Thornton, 31, was arrested after police seized two mobile phones and a small quantity of cocaine. He was denied bail and will reappear in court next week.
The bust exposed new details about how one of Australia’s most wanted fugitives gave police extensive access to the world’s criminal underworld.
Drug kingpin and Comancheros bikie associate Hakan Ayik has spent the last decade on the run from Australian authorities after fleeing the country in 2010.
Now living in Turkey, he was tricked into distributing messages to his criminal associates around the world via encrypted communications app AN0M, unaware it was being run by FBI special agents.
Three years ago, Australia Federal Police identified Ayik as a key influencer to successfully distribute the encrypted AN0M devices due to his high status in the criminal underworld.