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Essex drug dealers who wanted to become new Kray twins banged up for more than 25 years

Messages exchanged between the pair also revealed their aspirations of becoming gangsters like Ronnie and Reggie Kray

Robert Smith and Ismet Salih

Smith and Salih dreamed of becoming the new Kray twins (pictured)© Getty Images

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

Two Essex drug dealers who fancied themselves as the new Kray twins have been jailed in the UK for more than 25 years.

Robert Smith (37) and Ismet Salih (33) from Grays in Essex had used the encrypted messaging platform EncroChat to run their criminal enterprise which they had referred to as the “Chadwell Cartel”.

Messages exchanged between the pair also revealed their aspirations of becoming gangsters like Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the ruthless brothers who ran their feared East End crime empire during the 1950s and 1960s.

But officers from the Organised Crime Partnership (OCP) – a joint National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service unit – identified supplies of around 80 kilos of cocaine as well as the seizures of a further 123 kilos of cocaine that were linked to both men.

It is believed that they had also laundered profits of more than £1.25 million in cash.

Smith headed up the organised crime group which supplied cocaine and cannabis to the Chadwell St Mary and Grays areas.

Smith and Salih dreamed of becoming the new Kray twins (pictured)© Getty Images

Salih and Lee Twigg who acted as his trusted seconds in command would collect the cocaine from Smith’s suppliers in the UK.

They would then store the drugs before distributing them for Smith while also ensuring that cash from the sales made it back to the suppliers.

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

Smith and Salih exchanged more than 6,000 messages, predominantly about the sale of cocaine.

Some of the messages contained ledgers relating to the profits made from customers, and the money paid to their supplier for future stock.

In September 2021, the pair were arrested after investigators discovered three kilos of cannabis with a wholesale value of up to £15,760 in Salih’s garden shed.

They also found evidence of a previous cannabis grow farm 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.

After admitting to the offences at Basildon Crown Court, they were jailed yesterday for 16-and-a-half years and nine years respectively at the same court.

Fellow Essex men Andrew Fraser and Christopher Low, Jamie Sheaves, from Kent, and Adil Bakali, from Wiltshire, who were runners for Smith’s supplier were previously jailed for a total of 39 years.

Fraser had been stopped driving a van on the M25 Dartford Crossing in Kent in October 2020 when two bags containing 20 kilos of cocaine with a street value of £1.6 million were found in the back.

These would have been given to Salih had he not been intercepted, the NCA said.

A month later, 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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