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Operation Venetic: Self-proclaimed ‘Chadwell Cartel’ drug dealers jailed

A pair of Essex drug dealers who used encrypted messaging platform EncroChat to run their criminal enterprise have been jailed for more than 25 years.

Officers from the Organised Crime Partnership – a joint National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service unit – identified supplies of around 80 kilos of cocaine as part of their investigation into 

Robert Smith, 37, and Ismet Salih, 33, both from Grays in Essex. The men were also linked to the seizures of a further 123 kilos of cocaine, and had laundered profits of more than £1.25 million in cash.

Smith headed an organised crime group which supplied cocaine and cannabis to the Chadwell St Mary and Grays areas, and used Salih and Lee Twigg as his trusted seconds in command.

Smith and Salih referred to themselves as the ‘Chadwell Cartel’ in EncroChat exchanges, and messages exchanged revealed their aspirations of becoming gangsters like Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

Smith used the handle ‘demonfern’ to source the cocaine from a Dubai-based seller, who went by ‘blacknarco’ and ‘darkestnarco’.

Salih and associate Lee Twigg collected the cocaine from Smiths’s suppliers in the UK and then stored and distributed the drugs for him. They also ensured cash from the sale of the drugs made it back to the suppliers.

Smith and Salih exchanged more than 6,000 messages, predominantly about the sale of cocaine. Some of these contained ledgers relating to the profits made from customers, and money paid to their supplier for future stock.

The pair were arrested in September 2021, with investigators finding three kilos of cannabis with a wholesale value of up to £15,760 in Salih’s garden shed and evidence of a previous cannabis grow in his loft.

Smith had £7,635 in cash in a plastic bag within his shorts at the time of his arrest.

Smith and Salih were subsequently charged with drugs and money laundering offences, and admitted these at Basildon Crown Court. They were jailed for 16-and-a-half years and nine years respectively at the same court yesterday (8 March).

Investigators established that Essex men Andrew Fraser and Christopher Low, Jamie Sheaves, from Kent, and Adil Bakali, from Wiltshire, were runners for Smith’s supplier. They have previously been jailed for a total of 39 years.

In October 2020 Fraser was stopped driving a van on the M25 Dartford Crossing in Kent. Two bags containing 20 kilos of cocaine with a street value of £1.6 million were found in the back, which he would have given to Salih had he not been arrested.

The following month, OCP officers saw Twigg put a black holdall into Bakali’s car, which was later stopped by police at the M1 Northampton Services. More than 21 kilos of cocaine with a street value of  almost £1.7 million were found in bags in the back of the car.

Twigg was arrested for this offence, and for the seizure of a further 3.5 kilos of cocaine which were found in his garage and an underground hide in his garden shed. A cannabis farm was also found in his loft.

The cocaine seized at Twigg’s home had been supplied by Sheaves, who also provided drugs to Salih. Sheaves was also in contact with the same person in Dubai. 

Low was jailed after 40 kilos of cocaine with a street value of £3.2 million was found in the boot of a black Jaguar XF in Brentford, west London. He was also found to have supplied another man, Kevin Malthouse, with five kilos of cocaine.

The Organised Crime Partnership’s investigation formed part of  Operation Venetic, the UK law enforcement response to the July 2020 takedown of the EncroChat encrypted communication service.

Andrew Tickner, from the 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.”

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