Northern Ireland news

Thirty facing prosecution after French break into encrypted phones

Laganside Court in Belfast

Up to 30 people in Northern Ireland are now facing prosecution in connection with a Europe-wide investigation into organised drug dealing, a court has heard.

The developing scale of the offensive against suspected crime networks using encrypted communications emerged as a 55-year-old Belfast man faced allegations of involvement in high-value cocaine and cannabis trading.

Eamon Cullen was arrested following searches at his Upper Lisburn Road home on Monday August 10.

He appeared at Belfast Magistrates' Court charged with being concerned in the supply of Class A and B Drugs.

Cullen is further accused of possessing, transferring and entering an arrangement to acquire criminal property on dates between March and June this year.

The case relates to raids carried out as part of the National Crime Agency-led Operation Venetic.

Prosecutor Robin Steer said inquiries began when French authorities accessed data and messages from encrypted phone handsets costing up to £1,500.

"At the minute there are about 20-30 people going through the courts (in Northern Ireland) at present," he revealed.

Mr Steer claimed messages show Cullen arranged a meeting with someone else at a garage near his home.

The communications allegedly link the defendant to large amounts of cash and drugs, with references to a "bill of £330,000" for one consignment and other slang terms for cocaine and cannabis.

Defence solicitor Philip Breen insisted his client would not flee if released.

He told the court Cullen was out at work when police searched his house, but honoured an arrangement to call at a PSNI station yesterday.

"There's no reason to think he's not going to turn up for trial," Mr Breen added.

Bail was granted on condition that Cullen provides a £5,000 surety, surrenders any passports and abides by a curfew.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall also banned him from using a mobile or accessing the internet.

Cullen is due to appear back in court in four weeks time.

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