Northern Ireland

Further arrests in Encrochat crackdown

The high-security Encrochat handsets
The high-security Encrochat handsets The high-security Encrochat handsets

FIVE people have been charged and up to 25 properties searched by the PSNI based on information gained from the hacking of an encrytpted phone network used by criminals.

Last month The Irish News reported a wave of arrests were expected after a European security agency hacked into Encrochat, an encrypted phone service used by major organised crime gangs.

Operation Venetic, was the biggest every joint law enforcement crack down in modern times and included multiple police forces across the UK, Ireland and Europe.

Revealing further details of the operation on Thursday the PSNI said they have made a "significant" number of arrests and seized hundreds of thousands of pounds in the crack down on organised crime.

Some 25 searches as part of Operation Venetic resulted in the seizure of more than £365,000 in cash, as well as drugs, high-value vehicles, laptops, jewellery and designer handbags.

The PSNI said it has also "mitigated" more than 15 threats to life as part of the operation.

Five people have so far been charged, four of whom have been remanded in custody and one is on High Court bail.

The operation, led by the National Crime Agency (NCA), has been described as the UK's biggest law enforcement operation against serious and organised crime.

There was also work done in collaboration with law enforcement partners across Europe and internationally.

Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Freeburn said the operation targeted organised crime groups using encrypted technology in a bid to evade law enforcement.

To date, he said, PSNI searches in Northern Ireland have resulted in the seizure of 15 phones using Encrochat software and more than £360,000 in cash.

"This has been the largest and most significant law enforcement operation ever mounted in the United Kingdom in the fight against organised crime groups," he said.

"It has focused on attacking their use of encrypted communication called Encro devices on which individual members of crime groups co-ordinate their illegal activities.

"The organised crime groups thought that by using encrypted technology they could fly below the radar of law enforcement, however this operation should send a clear message that the combined strength of PSNI working in partnership with our law enforcement partners that no-one is beyond the reach of the law."

He said that over the past couple of months PSNI officers have worked with the NCA and HM Revenue and Customs in reviewing the material seized and assessing what criminal offences have been committed.

"We have secured evidence to prosecute a significant number of known criminals who thought they were beyond our reach. In Northern Ireland we have charged five people, four of whom have all been remanded in custody and one on High Court bail," he said.

"The 44 charges range from conspiracy to commit murder, possession of significant amounts of criminal property, various drugs offences involving class A and class B drugs, including conspiracy to import and also being concerned in the supply".

A 64-year-old man was arrested in the Newry area on Thursday.

"And there will more to come as we continue to disrupt this criminal network operating here in Northern Ireland who have links to criminals both nationally and internationally", he added.

Craig Naylor, the NCA's deputy director of investigations for Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England, said: "Operation Venetic is unprecedented across Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe. It is the broadest and most significant co-ordinated piece of activity into serious organised crime intended to cause significant damage to organised crime groups."