Sadık Güleç/ DUVAR
On Monday, nine suspects being tried for murder were acquitted in an Istanbul court. The suspects were being charged in the 2014 murder of the daughter and driver of a drug kingpin with whom they were at odds. The decision marks the end of a major showdown, which includes everything from drug smuggling to murders that crossed borders. Even a summary of what transpired is striking enough to make Pablo Escobar jealous.
In 2014, two people were gunned down in a luxury jeep belonging to the Iranian drug kingpin Naji Sherifi Zindashti in the Istanbul suburb of Büyükçekmece while the vehicle was stopped at a traffic light. The shooters–who thought that Zindashti himself was in the car—actually ended up killing Zindashti’s daughter, Arzu Sherifi Zindashti, and his driver, Devrim Öztunç. Based on what happened afterward, it became clear that Zindashti decided to kill everyone who he suspected to be related to the event.
Prior to the murder of his daughter, Zindashti was a name known to journalists who followed the drug world. In 2007, he was taken into custody in the same Istanbul suburb where his daughter and driver ended up being killed for the possession of 75 kilograms of heroin. In 2010, Zindashti was released by Zekeriya Öz, an infamous prosecutor who is currently on the lam.
What’s more is that Zindashti was a secret witness in the Ergenekon investigations, of which Öz was the lead prosecutor. Öz is wanted due to his links to the exiled US cleric Fethullah Gülen, while the Ergenekon case, which sought to take down a nationalist ‘state within a state’ composed of security forces and other figures that was attempting to overthrow the government, is believed to have been one of series of fabricated trials launched by Gülenist members of the judiciary to eliminate their opponents.
In June of 2014 in an international operation, authorities confiscated two tons of heroin believed to be owned by the brothers Orhan and İlhan Ungan and an ethnic Iranian Çetin Koç. The three men believed that Zindashti was behind the operation, and opted to seek revenge in September of that year, hiring Hacı Osman Sezen and Turgay Akar to kill him. After Sezen and Akar mistakenly killed Zindashti’s daughter and driver, the identities and addresses of the killers quickly reached the police, one of whom supplied Zindashti with the information. That police officer was later arrested, but Sezen and Akar were shot and killed in Istanbul in December of that year. That same month, Ali Ekber Akgün, another man believed to be involved, was killed in his car in the Istinye district of Istanbul.
In 2016, Koç was killed in a high-security gated community in Dubai, in what police believe to have been a well-planned murder. Nine bullets were found lodged in his body. The two suspects apparently arrived in Dubai a day before the murder and left for Canada immediately afterward.
Prior to that in 2015, Orhan Ungan was arrested in the Netherlands and extradited to Turkey, while his brother İlhan Ungan was wanted by police. In 2017, on the behalf of İlhan Ungan, his lawyer filed a complaint with the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office, alleging that Zindashti had hired two hitmen to kill his client, and that they were currently staying in Istanbul.
In 2017, as his trial was ongoing, Orhan Ungan’s lawyer Kudbettin Kaya told the court “I might not make it to another hearing because there is the risk that I will be killed or I may kill someone out of self defense.” Seventeen days later, Kaya was killed in a restaurant in the Yeşilköy district of Istanbul.
In April of 2018, Zindashti and six of his men were arrested. A police superintendent and another officer were also arrested after it was determined that they had links to the drug lord. Despite facing charges of murder, drug trafficking, and establishing a criminal organization, Zindashti was released in October of 2018 along with three other people. Three hours later, a prosecutor ordered to re-arrest them, but within that period of time they managed to disappear within thin air.
Though Zindashti escaped, the murders continued. İlhan Ungan was gunned down at a cafe on Istanbul’s posh Bağdat Avenue in April of this year, while sitting with his son and wife. Ungan, who the police could not catch, was caught by his killers.
The court decision on Monday marks the end of a five-year saga. These are the murders that are known to be related to the murder of Zindashti’s daughter. However, there are additional murders in Istanbul and in other countries that are also thought to be related. Meanwhile, Zindashti is believed to be living in another country, and he has still not been caught.