An organized crime boss sought by Australian authorities for over a decade was determined to be living in Turkey, three Australian media outlets have found.
Hakan "the Facebook gangster" Ayık, who is being sought on drug charges, was found to be living a luxurious life in Istanbul, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes reported.
The media outlets decided to expose the whereabouts of Ayık following numerous brief and blurry footage seemingly showing the organized crime boss in Istanbul.
The initial video was posted in February last year on the Instagram account of Istanbul’s Kings Cross hotel and offered an important clue about Ayık's movements many years after his suspected role in a massive 2010 drug shipment put him on Interpol’s most-wanted list.
That snippet of information led to others. The hotel was reviewed glowingly in online posts by several notorious Australian criminals who were close to Ayık. An Istanbul cosmetic surgery clinic that also “liked” the Kings Cross Hotel had on its own homepage a photo of Ayık's balding nephew receiving a hair transplant.
The clinic’s owner, a Dutch woman calling herself Fabienne Fleur, appeared in photos at the same hotel.
Other photos, these showing a birthday dinner posted by one of Fleur’s friends, reveal a man seated alongside women with glittering smiles and designer clothes. A closer look reveals his face is digitally altered.
The online images suggested that, as long suspected by police, Ayık, the Australian son of Turkish migrants, was living somewhere in Turkey. The media outlets stepped in at this point.
The effort, which included sending Turkish sources into Ayık'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, they said.
It also told the story of how serious transnational organized crime has evolved in recent years into a threat to national security – albeit one that has largely slipped from the political and public radar, they added.
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 prioritization 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, Ayık is suspected of making himself the most prolific Australian drug broker in decades.
Ayık 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 organized crime probe.
In 2009, Hakan Ayık 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 traveled the world with sex workers and bikies, was seen in Hong Kong, Mumbai and at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
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.
Ayık’s own bulky physique was partly the product of steroid use. These drugs, along with his constant liaisons with sex workers, left him with persistent health concerns.
From his budding criminal crew he sought total loyalty, but he did not give it in return. Doing Ayık’s dirty work landed both his cousin, Erkan Doğan, and brother, Erkan Ayık in prison as Hakan himself avoided doing time.
By 2008, his ruthlessness was paying dividends. Ayık 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 Ayık’s high school friends had gone on to hold high ranks in the Comancheros outlaw motorcycle gang. While Ayık himself wasn’t interested in being a bikie, he believed the group could aid his growing business.
“Ayık 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: Ayık 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 Ayık, 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 Ayık and Ho had organized was seized by police. Police phone taps suggest Ayık paid a $300,000 ransom to ensure his panicked friend was released.
This event may have prompted Ayık 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 Ayık at a pharmaceutical laboratory in India and documents outlining the purchase of vast quantities of drug-making chemicals. The evidence suggested Ayık was planning his own industrial-scale “super” synthetic drug laboratory on the sub-continent.
Ayık 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. Ayık’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 Ayık – with stealing files that were later leaked to Ayık’s Comanchero associates. That same year, phone taps captured Ayık directing a prison officer to pass messages to jailed bikies.
By 2009, Ayık’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 Ayık had used his “doors” to transport the drugs from South Africa via air freight to Tonga, where they were to be shipped to Australia.
Ayık’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 Ayık 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 Ayık 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, Ayık decided it was too risky to return from a trip to Hong Kong. Soon after this, police issued an Interpol warrant for his arrest.
Ayık 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
Ayık 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 Ayık’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 organized crime, making the job of stretched state and federal crime agencies even harder.
Official sources, who are not authorized to speak publicly, say Ayık 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. Ayık then introduced a third, Anon.
Finding the Facebook gangster
On an icy day in Turkey earlier this year, a year after Hakan Ayık was filmed at the entrance to the Kings Cross hotel, local fixers working for The Age, the Herald and 60 Minutes entered the venue with a hidden camera. It loomed as a fruitless and dangerous assignment. Australian policing sources had warned us that Ayık had altered his appearance using plastic surgery. He was armed and protected by a security detail, they said. He was also, according to multiple sources in Australia and Turkey, connected to corrupt Turkish officials.
The social media posts of Ayık’s friends and relatives and their associated businesses in Turkey suggested Ayık spent large amounts of time at the hotel. Not only is its name suggestive – Kings Cross in Sydney has a long association with bikies, strip clubs and crime bosses – but Turkish business records reveal the hotel’s owner was also called Hakan, albeit with a last name of Reis.
This, it turned out, was another potential clue. Reis translates from Turkish to English into “chief” or “commander." Is it possible Hakan Ayık has changed his name to denote his perceived power and prestige? The logo of the Kings Cross Hotel is a crown.
Within a few days, our fixers were closer to confirming this. At a ground floor table in the hotel a group of heavyset men were meeting. They spoke with American and Australian accents. One matched Ayık’s appearance. Days later, our hidden camera glimpsed another hotel meeting. The Ayık look-a-like was there with one of the large men. The resemblance was striking, although the face looked slightly different.
Turkish identity and birth records provided yet more pieces of the puzzle. They revealed the owner of the Kings Cross Hotel, Hakan Reis, once had a different name and had renounced his Australian citizenship in 2019, leaving only his Turkish passport.
Hakan Reis is Hakan Ayık, owner of two homes in upmarket Turkish suburbs, including the Kemer Country gated community – information that has been provided to federal police.
Turkish records also reveal this man has had two children in Turkey with a Dutch bar attendant, Fleur Messelink, who, when she is not globetrotting to upmarket travel destinations and luxury resorts, runs a cosmetic surgery and hair transplant clinic in Turkey. It is Messelink, under her online alias “Fabienne Fleur” who blurred out Ayık’s face in the photo posted on Instagram of her birthday dinner.
Other faces in that photo are clearer. It’s a who’s who of organized crime figures, including Comanchero Daux Naguru and two men who are wanted for questioning by Australian police. Turkey, it seems, is not just a safe haven for Ayık, but a host of his criminal associates.
The discovery of Ayık’s new identity yielded a fresh trove of social media photos posted by the Facebook gangster and his friends. They remain as clichéd as the images he posted in 2010: fast cars, fake smiles and designer clothes, though the man now featured sports a middle-aged paunch.
But the photos show only part of the story. Sources aware of Ayık’s activities in Turkey say his ongoing criminal activity, violent behavior and love of Asian sex workers are causing tensions in his marriage. There have been rifts with other criminal groups and threats of violence.
One of Ayık’s close associates and a supplier of his fake passports, criminal John Macris, was shot dead in Greece in 2018. And his Interpol red notice remains live.
Whatever his name, and regardless of his glamorous new life, Australian police are still pressing to arrest and extradite the man once known as the Facebook gangster.