Turkish Cypriot police: Alleged drug baron wanted in Australia goes on trial

Published 24.12.2010 11:13
Updated 24.12.2010 13:59

An alleged drug baron went on trial in northern Cyprus, nearly two months after a failed attempt to cross into the Greek Cypriot side, Turkish Cypriot police said Friday.

ANKARA, Turkey - Hakan Ayik, also wanted in Australia, faces charges of entering a restricted military zone, police spokesman Ahmet Kayiplar said by telephone.

Ayik is accused of entering the area along the border between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sectors after the failed attempt to cross to the Greek Cypriot side on Oct. 29. It was not clear how he avoided capture at the time.

Ayik was caught attempting to cross into the southern Greek Cypriot side in a car, Greek Cypriot police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said. Greek Cypriot customs officials identified him on an arrest warrant and Ayik made a dash for it back to the north on foot evading capture, he said. Customs agents fired warning shots to stop him, but Ayik managed to flee.

"We have been looking for him since the border incident was reported," Kayiplar said of Ayik who was captured in the town of Kyrenia on Monday.

Turkish Cypriot officials recently began trying internationally wanted criminals to prevent their breakaway state from being seen as a haven for fugitives. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey sent troops to the island following a short-lived coup staged by supporters of union with Greece.

Turkish and Australian news reports said Ayik was wanted in Australia on drug charges. Turkey's Vatan newspaper said he was the subject of an Interpol "Red Notice," which makes international travel more difficult and considered a valid request for an arrest by some countries.

Australian authorities declined to comment.

"As a matter of long standing practice the Australian government does not disclose whether it has made an extradition request to a foreign country until the person is arrested or brought before the court in a foreign country pursuant to that request," Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor's office said in a statement. "This is to avoid giving the person who is the subject of the extradition request the opportunity to flee and evade arrest."

Kayiplar said the court would decide whether Ayik can be extradited to another country after serving his prison term if convicted, but only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriot state. Australia has an extradition request with Turkey.

Ayik also faces charges of possessing unspecified drug materials used in labs and some prescription medicine at his hotel room, Kayiplar added. It was not clear what sentence he faces and whether he will face any other charges.

Ayik was on the run since Australian police issued an arrest warrant for him in August, after a two-year organized crime investigation, the Sydney Morning Herald said in a Nov. 16 report on its website. The paper said Ayik's Chinese business partner, Man Kong "Mark" Ho, was arrested in September by Hong Kong organized crime detectives while he was visiting a relative at a hospital.

While under investigation, Ayik posted two travel videos on his Facebook site, including one which showed him meeting his business partner and another friend in Hong Kong, the Sydney Morning Herald said. The video also depicted him driving in expensive cars and partying with prostitutes, it said.

In a Facebook page, the authenticity of which cannot be independently verified, Ayik posted a note in Turkish on Sept. 1: "catch me if you can." A picture of the tattooed torso of Ayik, a body builder, can also be seen on the social networking site Facebook.

Ayik has been a modern criminal who is technologically savvy and difficult to track, according to Turkey's Vatan newspaper. "Catch Me If You Can" is the title of a 2002 movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, based on the true story of a con artist.

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SELCAN HACAOGLU, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.

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