A major crime syndicate which used ‘EncroChat’, an encrypted phone network to move drugs and guns, has been busted by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Caught up in the operation were a number of suspected drug ‘kingpins’, police said. Several suspects were previously seen as ‘untouchable’ and had evaded police for decades.
Law enforcement agencies across Europe worked with the NCA on Operation Venetic – one of the largest and most significant operations undertaken in the UK.
Hacking of the EncroChat phone network led to 746 arrests in total and £54 million in cash to be seized, as well as more than two tonnes of drugs and several dozen firearms.
The investigation was initiated and led by French and Dutch police, with assistance from Europol.
Speaking at a press conference at the Hague, Wil van Gemert, deputy executive director of Europol, said that the hacking had caused the “disruption of criminal activities including violent attacks, corruption, attempted murders and large-scale drug transports”.
On June 13th, 60,000 criminals using EncronChat phones received a message stating: “Today, we had our domain seized illegally by government entities.
“We can no longer guarantee the security of your device … you are advised to power off and physically dispose of your device immediately.”
The EncroChat platform provided the criminals with “upgraded privacy and end-to-end security solutions made to render your data immune to be stolen or tracked,” according to the company website.
This creates the perfect environment in which criminals can hide their activities from law enforcement agencies. However, police were able to hack the system and gain access to a huge bank of information about major organised crime syndicates.
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Chief constable Peter Goodman, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for serious and organised crime told the Independent: “They believed their conversations were not reachable by law enforcement, so you can imagine the quality of intelligence we’re receiving.”
Goodman noted that those caught as a result of the operation included “iconic figures that have been benefiting from crime for a number of years”.
“They have managed to distance themselves from criminal activity through devices like this,” he added.
“When we understand the full extent of this compromise, no doubt there will be iconic figures who have not previously been touched by law enforcement who will be going to prison and losing significant assets.”
The operation has also made its way to Scotland after the country’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce made 59 arrests and seized more than £25 million worth of drugs.
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf, chair of Scotland’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce, commented on the operation: “This has been one of Police Scotland’s most significant operations, combining the knowledge and resources of local policing with the service’s enhanced national capabilities.
“It also underlines the importance of continued cross-border co-operation in law enforcement, as well as the value of the partnerships forged through Scotland’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce and our highly-prized Scottish Crime Campus.”
Assistant chief constable at Police Scotland, Angela McLaren, said: “Police Scotland is absolutely committed to disrupting those involved in serious and organised crime in Scotland.
“These intelligence-led proactive operations, which have been undertaken in partnership with the NCA, UK police forces and Border Force, have resulted in some of the largest seizures made by the service.”