A pair of drug dealers who saw themselves as the next Kray twins have been jailed for more than 25 years after being caught with a stash of cocaine with a street value of £16 million.
Robert Smith, 37, and Ismet Salih, 33, called themselves the ‘Chadwell Cartel’ in chat messages with other criminals and revealed their aspirations to emulate infamous 1960s gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
Smith headed the gang that supplied cocaine and cannabis to the Chadwell St Mary and Grays areas of Essex, with Salih and another associate, Lee Twigg, working as his lieutenants, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
An investigation into the gang found they exchanged more than 6,000 encrypted messages, mostly about drugs, that revealed Smith used the handle ‘demonfern’ to source class A drugs from a seller based in Dubai known as ‘blacknarco’ and ‘darkestnarco’.
Twigg and Salih collected cocaine from Smith's suppliers in the UK, then stored and distributed drugs for him - making sure cash from the sales made it back to the suppliers.
A probe into Smith and Salih unearthed around 80kg of cocaine being supplied through their network before they were linked to another 123kg seized from other dealers, meaning they could have made as much as £16m in total.
The pair were arrested in September 2021, with investigators finding 3kg of cannabis with a wholesale value of up to £15,760 in Salih’s garden shed and evidence cannabis had been grown in his loft.
When he was arrested, Smith had £7,635 in cash in a plastic bag stuffed in his shorts.
Both men, from Grays in Essex, pleaded guilty to drugs and money laundering offences and Smith has now been jailed for 16-and-a-half years, while Salih was handed a nine-year prison sentence.
Four other men were also found to be working as runners for Smith’s Dubai supplier.
Andrew Fraser, 59, of Harlow, Christopher Low, 48, of Chipping Ongar, plus Jamie Sheaves, 32, from Dartford, Kent, and Adil Bakali, 34, from Corsham, Wiltshire, were jailed for a total of 39 years at various courts between March 2020 and May last year.
Fraser was stopped while driving a van on the M25 Dartford Crossing in Kent with two bags containing 20kg of cocaine with a street value of £1.6 million in the back that he planned to give to Salih, the NCA said.
The following month, officers saw Twigg put a black holdall into Bakali’s car, which was later stopped by police at the M1 Northampton Services with more than 21kg of cocaine with a street value of almost £1.7m found in bags in the back.
Police found another 3.5kg of cocaine in Twigg's garage and hidden underground in his garden shed in Grays, Essex, as well as a cannabis farm in his loft.
The cocaine seized at Twigg’s home had been supplied by Sheaves, who also handed drugs to Salih and was in contact with the same dealer in Dubai.
Low was jailed after 40kg of cocaine worth around £3.2m was discovered in the boot of a black Jaguar XF in Brentford, west London.
After the sentencing of Smith and Salih, Andrew Tickner, from the NCA and Met Police's Organised Crime Partnership, said: "Robert Smith and Ismet Salih were behind a criminal network which saw vast amounts of cocaine sold in Essex and beyond.
"Their dream of becoming gangsters like the Kray twins was swiftly shattered by our investigation. Instead, their reality is lengthy prison sentences.
"Using the strong partnership between the NCA and Met Police, we will continue to pursue organised criminals fuelling the class A drug trade."
The investigation into the gang was part of Operation Venetic - an ongoing probe into messages sent between criminals around Europe using special encrypted message platform EncroChat.
The encrypted communication service was cracked by police in July 2020 leading to a slew of arrests in the time since.