A former bikie boss and model wanted for questioning by Victoria Police over two murders has been captured in a police crackdown on organised crime in Turkey that has swept up key players of the Australian underworld.
A source with knowledge of the raids, not authorised to speak publicly, confirmed that Hasan Topal was among 37 people picked up overnight by Turkish police in connection to an “international armed organised crime” network.
Hasan Topal during his modelling days in Melbourne. Credit: George Poulakis
Many had been wanted by police all over the world, and four are considered “high-value targets”, according to the Australian Federal Police, which partnered with Turkish authorities for the dawn raids under a major operation nicknamed “Gain” in Australia targeting the Comanchero bikie gang.
It is not known what Topal is charged with or the extent of his involvement in the alleged organised crime operation.
Australia’s most wanted alleged organised crime boss, Hakan Ayik, who was famously duped by police operatives in 2021, was also arrested in the Turkish raids overnight, along with other major Australian crime figures such as Hakan Arif.
Hasan Topal, a former Comancheros bikie boss and model.
Acting AFP Deputy Commissioner Grant Nicholls said on Friday the apprehended men were alleged to have “extensive connections to Comanchero outlaw motorcycle gang and organised crime within Australia”.
Some of those arrested, whom he called “the masterminds of misery”, were “alleged to be global threats … behind some of the biggest illicit drug shipments throughout the world”, he said.
Two of the men can “source or move illegal shipments of drugs anywhere in the world”, police allege.
Nicholls said: “They might have thought they were untouchable, thought they would live in what could best be described as multimillion-dollar mansions.” But they had underestimated police working together across the globe, he said. “Some of them are now sitting in jail cells awaiting their trial.”
AFP Assistant Commissioner Nigel Ryan said two of the men arrested had known each other since their high school days in Australia, and while not every one of the 37 arrested in the raids had direct ties to Australia, police believed they were collectively responsible for 15 tonnes of illicit drugs pouring into Australia.
An estimated $250 million in bank accounts, real estate, vehicles and company shares linked to 55 people were seized in the operation, Turkish authorities said.
Topal, a former model who rose to become leader of Victoria’s Comanchero outlaw motorcycle gang, had been linked to a string of assaults in Melbourne.
He was wanted for questioning by police over the 2017 murders of Muhammed Yucel, shot dead in Keysborough, and Zabi Ezedyar, shot in Narre Warren, though no charges have been laid.
Police said they believed both murders were cases of mistaken identity by the Comancheros, who had really been targeting associates of other bikie gangs.
Topal left Australia in 2019, just months after completing a prison term for his role in a Comanchero-on-Comanchero brawl at a Canberra strip club.
Ayik, also known as “Big Hux”, had been sought by Australian authorities for alleged serious drug offences for more than a decade, and has been linked to the Comanchero gang. But sources not authorised to speak publicly said he would not be extradited to Australia but rather investigated as a Turkish citizen.
Nicholls said he expected the court process in Turkey for those detained to begin in the next few days.
The raids cap many months of collaboration between Australian and Turkish authorities. In a statement late on Thursday, a federal police spokesperson acknowledged the Turkish National Police for undertaking “one of the most significant operations targeting alleged transnational serious organised criminals”.
“[Turkey] is a regional leader in the global fight against transnational serious organised crime … [we have] witnessed the Turkish National Police’s determination in disrupting, arresting and charging alleged organised crime figures,” the spokesperson said, adding the AFP had a presence in Turkish capital Ankara.
Recent court judgments from cases brought in the aftermath of a joint operation between the AFP and the FBI named Operation Ironside suggest Topal was still involved in the affairs of the Comancheros from overseas.
Turkish police conducted dawn raids across Istanbul for the investigation into international drug trafficking and money laundering.
In what was called “the sting of the century”, Operation Ironside intercepted millions of messages sent by organised crime around the world via messaging app An0m. Criminals believed the app was encrypted and secure, but it was secretly controlled by law enforcement agencies.
According to the sentencing judgment of Nan Chen, who was apprehended in the Ironside sting, an “H Topal” was said to have directed Chen in May 2021 via the An0m app to collect $250,000 from a van with a secret compartment parked in Sydney, money that was later determined to be the proceeds of crime.
In a drug-trafficking case involving another high-ranking Comanchero called Domenic Luzza, who was jailed in August, the court heard that Luzza had met Topal in Europe in 2019 with $10,000 in cash, arranged through an encrypted app.
“You were sourcing drugs through Mr Topal,” Judge Dalziel found, “and your dealings with [him] indicate that you were trafficking in more than small quantities.”
A Victoria Police spokesperson said police were aware of the arrests in Turkey and “will provide support to the AFP and the Turkish National Police should it be required”.
In relation to the investigation into the 2017 shooting murders of Yucel and Ezedyar, Victoria Police said: “Detectives from the homicide squad will thoroughly examine all new information received as part of the ongoing investigation.”
In 2021, this masthead revealed Ayik was living in Istanbul, exposing his suspected role as the founder of the “Aussie Cartel” of organised crime figures wielding major influence over drug importation into Australia.
Ryan said while the new arrests related to prosecutions in Turkey, it was hoped they could help investigations into individuals in Australia, too. But he said he couldn’t comment on whether any Australians apprehended in the raid would be extradited home at a later date. “The judicial process is a matter for the Turkish authorities,” he said.
With Lucy Cormack
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