‘Chadwell Cartel’ drug dealers who aspired to be next Ronnie and Reggie Kray jailed for 25 years

Robert Smith, 37, and Ismet Salih, 33, were jailed on Wednesday  (National Crime Agency)
Robert Smith, 37, and Ismet Salih, 33, were jailed on Wednesday (National Crime Agency)

A pair of Essex drug dealers linked to hundreds of kilograms of cocaine aspired to be the next Ronnie and Reggie Kray gangsters before they were jailed for more than 25 years.

Robert Smith, 37, and Ismet Salih, 33, used encrypted messaging platform EncroChat to sell cocaine and cannabis in the Chadwell St Mary and Grays neighbourhoods, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Thursday.

During the message exchanges, the pair revealed their aspirations of becoming notorious gangsters like Ronnie and Reggie Kray. The Kray twin brothers were major perpetrators of organised crime in east London from the late 1950s to 1967.

Smith and Salih also referred to themselves as the “Chadwell Cartel” on EncroChat, with Smith using the handle “demonfern” to source cocaine from a Dubai-based seller, who went by “blacknarco” and “darkestnarco”.

Officers from the NCA and Metropolitan Police identitied supplies of around 80 kilos of cocaine as part of their investigation into the criminal pair.

The men, both from Grays in Essex, were also linked to a further 123 kilos of cocaine and had laundered profits of more than £1.2 million in cash.

Smith headed the drug ring while Salih and an associate, Lee Twigg, collected cocaine from Smith’s suppliers in the UK and stored and distributed the drugs.

They also made sure cash from the sale of drugs made it back to suppliers.

Smith and Salih exchanged more than 6,000 messages about the sale of cocaine before they were arrested in September 2021.

Investigators found three kilos of cannabis, worth up to £15,760, in Salih’s garden shed and evidence of a previous cannabis growth in his loft. Smith had £7,635 in cash inside a plastic bag within his shorts at the time of the arrest.

Smith and Salih were charged with a string of drugs and money laundering offences and admitted their crimes in Basildon Crown Court. They were sentenced on Wednesday.

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 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.”