Not only was a former member of the NOKAS robbery gang back in prison this week, so were eight other men after police carried out a series of coordinated raids early Monday. The former boss of the Bandidos motorcycle club, Lars Harnes, was also in custody, and police think they’ve warded off major drug dealing as well as an assassination.
The sweeping series of arrests came after a lengthy investigation headed by the Oslo Police District into what they call a “complex criminal milieu” believed to have been cracked by the Oslo Police’s organized crime unit. Surveillance, wire taps and conversations recorded on tape among various suspects form the basis for the arrests of 11 men and two women, among them Metkel Betew, who was released from prison for his role in the commando-style NOKAS robbery of 2004 less than a year ago.
String of custody hearings
A court in Oslo ordered on Wednesday that Betew be held in isolation for at least four more weeks, with bans on media and other forms of communication for the entire period. News bureau NTB reported that Judge Finn Haugen stressed the police’s submission of taped conversations that allegedly tie Betew to the drug dealing at the heart of the charges against him and eight others formally charged in the case.
Betew denies guilt as did the other eight men at their custody hearings that ran throughout the day in the Oslo city court (Oslo tingrett). All were ordered held, though, on charges tied to the alleged import of cannabis and illegal narcotic stimulants.
On Thursday, former Bandidos boss Lars Harnes, who has a long history of criminal convictions, also faced a custody hearing in which police requested four more weeks in isolation. Newspaper Aftenposten, state broadcaster NRK and other media have reported that he’s believed to have been hired in to assassinate another man with a long criminal record, Imran Saber. Saber is known as “Uncle Scrooge” and the “Finance Minister” in Norway’s underworld for alleged ties to various crimes including the theft of the Edvard Munch paintings Skrik and Madonna to take police resources away from their NOKAS robbery investigation at the time. Saber has been called “finance chief” for convict David Toska, the mastermind of the NOKAS robbery, and he has a record of convictions for aggravated violence, theft, possession and sale of stolen property and fraud.
Caught wearing a face mask and latex
Aftenposten reported that police believe Harnes was hired to murder Saber for reasons tied to this week’s raids and wave of arrests. Police have confirmed that Harnes had been under surveillance, was observed in and around Saber’s residence and was ultimately arrested July 21 in Saber’s garage, wearing a face mask, latex and nylon clothing and tape. He was also in possession of a stolen gun equipped with a silencer. Police Inspector Einar Ass confirmed to Aftenposten that Harnes, who had been seen around Saber’s home on several occasions, was dressed in such a way that it “raised alarms” among police, including the use of apparel that would not leave any traces of his DNA.
Harnes claims he’s not guilty of the charges against him but so far has not submitted to police questioning. It wasn’t clear who may have hired Harnes to be the alleged hit-man. Saber, currently facing more charges of receiving stolen property, has been moved to a secret and reportedly safe location.
Police also have reported finding considerable amounts of cash at the home of one of the nine other men charged in the case, along with at least 50 kilos of cannabis and dozens of kilos of stimulants. Police have dubbed the massive investigation “sult” (hunger), “and we believe we have control over the most central players in this network,” Inspector Einar Aas told Aftenposten. He said charges may be expanded, though, and he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of more arrests.