Hundreds arrested as crime comms system cracked
A top-secret communication system used by criminals to trade drugs and weapons has been “successfully penetrated,” says the National Crime Agency.
“Iconic” criminal characters were among the 746 arrests after messages on EncroChat were intercepted and decoded.
More than two tons of drugs, several dozen guns and £ 54 million in suspicious cash have been seized, the ANC says.
The ANC collaborated with forces across Europe on the UK’s “largest and most significant” police operation.
Officers are said to have prevented people from being killed after secretly checking planned attacks and threats to life on the encrypted service.
The ANC says that the operation across Europe, which lasted over three months and involved police forces across the UK, has had the biggest impact on organized crime gangs I have ever seen.
- “Chronic and corrosive” British organized crime
- Police arrest 13 on the UK’s “biggest drug conspiracy”
Metropolitan police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, whose force made 132 arrests and seized £ 13.3 million in cash, described it as a “turning point”.
He said: “This is only the beginning. We will stop the organized crime networks following these operations for weeks, months and perhaps years to come.”
An estimated 60,000 people, including up to 10,000 in Britain, have subscribed to France-based Encrochat, which has now been demolished.
The system ran on custom Android phones and, according to its website, provided “worry-free secure communications”.
Customers had access to features such as self-destructing messages deleted from the recipient’s device after a certain period of time.
There was also panic cancellation, where all data on the device could be cleared by entering a four-digit code from the lock screen.
The NC claims that the messaging system was used as a “criminal market” to coordinate the supply of Class A drugs worldwide and to import weapons including assault rifles, machine guns, shotguns, pistols and bombs to but no.
Law enforcement officers started getting data from the site on April 1 after the encryption code was cracked in March.
Gangs are also believed to have used portable devices to track attacks on rival groups, plan ways to enforce drug debt and organize money laundering.
The detailed threats to life on the site included acid attacks and threats to cut limbs.
Dozens of organized criminal groups have been dismantled, says the ANC, with most of the arrests in London and north-west England.
Lockdown “worked in our favor,” says the agency, as many other suspects were at home when they broke in.
Many of the arrested are said to form the “intermediate level” of the criminal gangs, while some are described as “Mr and Mrs Bigs” from the underworld.
In London, those targeted in Operation Met, codenamed “Eternal”, are allegedly including members of organized “high-damage” criminal networks with longstanding ties to violent crime and drug dealing.
Dame Cressida said: “These people are in business to earn huge amounts of money. Many of them lead a very respectable lifestyle – and certainly a high-end lifestyle in elegant homes with big cars that go in … clubs and restaurants, splashing money sometimes, but sometimes being very discreet about it. “
The Met said earlier this month his investigators identified an international drug and gun gang conspiracy to kill a member of a rival network.
According to the force, he managed to prevent the shootings by arresting an individual for conspiracy to murder and seizing a loaded gun, which was believed to be the intended murder weapon.