You can’t send a summons if ‘Joey the Weasel’ skims two kilos of coke - you cut off his hand to send out a message'
INSIDE STORY: COCAINE TRAIL FROM COLOMBIA TO THE COFFEE TABLE
HE was the 'geek' who ended up in prison after becoming a college drug dealer - but now Niko Vorobyov has made it his mission to get to the heart of the global narcotics scene.
Reformed dope dealer Niko's journey takes him to Mexico, where he meets the family drug lord 'El Chapo'; an off-duty cop with an opium habit in Tehran; and the brother of arch-narco Pablo Escobar in Colombia.
At the bottom rung of the illegal business, Niko had made fast cash selling ecstasy and marijuana to his fellow college students - until he was caught red-handed.
"There was a rave every weekend and for a few hours walking around the party I could quadruple my investment," he says.
But then a police sniffer dog brought his criminal career to an end at the age of 22 and a follow-up search of his home found a kilo of weed, an ounce each of cocaine and MDMA and Stg£6,000 in cash.
Sentenced to two and a half years in a UK prison, he clearly understood he had broken the law but couldn't help feel he hadn't done anything wrong because so many people still want to use and buy drugs.
In his short criminal career, Niko had survived being stabbed and robbed but, alone in his jail cell with suicidal thoughts, he knew he had to try to explain it all.
Born in Russia and raised in England, Niko admits he was "more geek than gangster" as he tried and ultimately failed to find his way in the underworld.
On his release from prison in London he set about trying to nail down the truth behind the 'War on Drugs' and explain how the narcotics trade had mushroomed into a billion-dollar global industry. Niko's book, Dopeworld, details his travels to 15 countries and five continents and he describes how, on one trip, he was taken to the Colombian jungle where he was given a demonstration of how coca leaves are turned into cocaine paste.
As men with machetes walked by, 'Ernesto' crushed the leaves with a rock then added sulphate, ammonia, cement and diesel to create a dark paste in the first step of the process.
The process, which ends with users in wealthy countries snorting the finished product, brings in billions of dollars and has caused chaos.
As a former drug dealer, Niko admits he has blood on his hands from selling cocaine to customers and indirectly contributing to the trade that has killed 260,000 people in Colombia's narcotics wars.
While his own blood was shed as a teenage dealer, stabbed with his own knife by a gang of heavies, he managed to mostly escape the violence that comes with drug dealing.
Thuggery, threats and fearsome violence is part and parcel of the drugs trade at every level.
"You can't send a summons if 'Joey the Weasel' skims two kilos of coke - you cut off his hand to send a message," he explained to the Sunday World this week.
As part of the research into the book, Niko recalls how he looked up an old drug-dealing pal in the UK who stayed in the business, moving up the ladder, and now has weapons at the ready in every room of his house.
Violence is never far away in Dopeworld as 'Paddy' recounts how he had a narrow escape from a gang as one man held a gun to his head.
He told Niko: "Once I woke up with a knife open in one hand and a handgun in the other, with the safety off, and I'd fallen sleep just like that."
Neither does Niko ignore the fact that any one of his customers could have died as a result of buying drugs from him. He couldn't know for sure whether a batch of cocaine or MDMA was tainted or stronger than expected and, looking back, regards the business as reckless.
After speaking to the father of two brothers who died from an MDMA overdose, Niko concludes that the system that makes drugs illegal contributes to such tragedies.
Some drugs have "been passed through so many hands no one has any idea what the actual dose is in it" he says.
For a while, Niko worked in Russia as a journalist after his release from prison in the UK where he found a professional online drugs retail website.
It was claimed that the drugs for sale were properly tested and they came with advice on the correct dose to take. The dealers sent GPS co-ordinates to where a purchase could be collected from its hiding place.
In the Philippines Niko was surprised to find that even the relatives of those killed are behind president Rodrigo Duterte's campaign on drug dealers that has left 30,000 people dead, according to some estimates.
One woman told Niko that she still supports Duterte's murderous anti-drug campaign even though her husband was shot and killed by vigilantes.
"It's good, but only if they are sure of their target," she told him.
Niko's book finishes with an impassioned call to end the war on drugs that has caused so much suffering - and he promises to open his own weed shop and name it after the judge who sent him to prison.
l Dopeworld: Adventures in Drug Lands is by Niko Vorobyov.