A pair of wannabe gangsters who fancied themselves as the next Kray twins have been jailed for more than 25 years after police found a stash of drugs in a garden shed.
Essex-based drug barons Robert Smith, 37, and Ismet Salih, 33, have had their empire dismantled in joint operation by the National Crime Agency and Met Police.
The pair of kingpins had been using encrypted messaging platform EncroChat to run their drug dealing operation, racking in more than £1.25million in profits by selling cocaine and cannabis to areas around Essex.
Labelling themselves the ‘Chadwell Cartel’ – a reference to where they were selling narcotics – the pair aspired to be like East End gangsters, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, whose organised crime gang terrorised London in the late 1950s and 1960s.
But their dreams were crushed when investigators arrested them in September 2021 after three kilos of cannabis, worth £15,760, were found in Salih’s garden shed and evidence of a previous cannabis factory in his loft was uncovered.
Essex-based drug barons Robert Smith (left), 37, and Ismet Salih (right), 33, have had their empire dismantled in joint operation by the National Crime Agency and Met Police. They both aspired to be like the notorious Kray twins
The pair had supplied cocaine and cannabis to the Chadwell St Mary and Grays areas of Essex, making £1.25million in profit (pictured are some of the narcotics seized by police
Smith was also discovered with £7,635 in cash in a plastic bag in his shorts at the time of his arrest.
They were subsequently charged with drugs and money laundering offences, which they admitted at Basildon Crown Court in Essex.
But this was the beginning of the end for the pair as investigators further linked the pair to the seizure of 123 kilos of cocaine and laundering profits of more than £1.25million in cash.
They discovered Smith had headed an organised crime group which supplied cocaine and cannabis to the Chadwell St Mary and Grays areas of Essex and was using Salih and another associate, Lee Twigg, as his trusted seconds-in-command.
Smith used the handle ‘demonfern’ to source the cocaine from a Dubai-based seller on EncroChat, who went by the names ‘blacknarco’ and ‘darkestnarco’.
Salih and 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 on EncroChat – 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.
In a hearing at Basildon Crown Court on Wednesday, Smith was jailed for 16 years and six months, and Salih received a nine-year custodial sentence.
Police discovered Smith had headed an organised crime group which supplied cocaine and cannabis to the Chadwell St Mary and Grays areas of Essex and was using Salih and another associate, Lee Twigg (pictured), as his trusted seconds-in-command.
Smith used the handle ‘demonfern’ to source the cocaine from a Dubai-based seller on EncroChat, who went by the names ‘blacknarco’ and ‘darkestnarco’. Pictured are blocks of drugs that were seized by police
The pair of Essex drug dealers who used encrypted messaging platform EncroChat to run their criminal enterprise. Pictured are some of the items seized by police
Smith and Salih 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 (pictured)
Andrew Tickner, from the Organised Crime Partnership which led the investigation, 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.’
Investigators established that a number of other men, including Andrew Fraser and Christopher Low, from Essex, Jamie Sheaves, from Kent, and Adil Bakali, from Wiltshire, were runners for Smith’s supplier. They had 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 £1.6million 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 £1.7million were found in bags in the back of the car.
Christopher Low (left) and Adil Bakali (right) from Essex were runners for Smith’s supplies
In October 2020 Andrew 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 £1.6million were found in the back, which he would have given to Salih had he not been arrested.
Jamie Sheaves (left) from Kent, and Kevin Malthouse (right) were also identified by police as being part of the organised crime gang, working as drug runners
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 (some of the drugs taken are pictured)
Twigg was arrested for this offence, and for the seizure of a further 3.5Kg 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.
He pleaded guilty and was jailed for nine-and-a-half years at Northampton Crown Court in August 2021 for conspiracy to supply cocaine, possession with intent to supply cocaine, and cultivation of cannabis.
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 40Kg of cocaine with a street value of £3.2million 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 OCP’s investigation formed part of Operation Venetic, the UK law enforcement response to the July 2020 takedown of the EncroChat encrypted communication service.