British police use 'EncroChat' breach to arrest more than 700 alleged 'kingpin' criminals
TORONTO -- Over the last three months, British police forces from across the country have made hundreds of arrests following a massive breakthrough by law enforcement into the dealings of organized crime within the U.K.
Police have arrested more than 700 people accused of being gun runners, drug traffickers, money launderers and more.
The spree of arrests is, for British police, an unparalleled smashing of crime networks long considered beyond the reach of the law.
“We have been able to hit the most senior levels of organized crime where it hurts most,” said Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Scotland Yard. “Getting people arrested, seizing their cash, stopping their distribution networks in a way that I have literally never seen before.”
Every police force in the country was involved in the effort -- but it was law enforcement in France and the Netherlands that made the arrests possible.
They hacked into a sophisticated encrypted phone system used by hundreds of these alleged criminals, called EncroChat. Suddenly, every message users sent, every drug and arms deal they organized, were all in the hands of law enforcement.
“My team described this as the equivalent to the cracking of the Enigma Code,” said Nikki Holland, Director of the National Crime Agency (NCA).
“These are not street-level criminals. These are middle-tier or upper-echelon criminals who people would describe as the kingpin of organized crime groups, the so-called iconic untouchables.”
According to a press release from NCA, the agency had been working with international law enforcement agencies since 2016 in order to break into EncroChat, in a huge effort called Operation Venetic.
The information obtained from EncroChat was shared via Europol, the release says. The identities of those using EncroChat was obtained by analyzing “millions of messages and hundreds of thousands of images.”
EncroChat’s servers were based in France. One of the features of EncroChat was a “kill code” to wipe the entire contents of the phone at a moment’s notice.
Worldwide, NCA estimates that there were 60,000 users of the secure mobile instant messaging system, and 10,000 users within the U.K.
“The sole use was for coordinating and planning the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals,” the press release states.
The platform is now shut down -- according to the NCA, EncroChat realized they had been breached on June 13 and warned users to get rid of their phones, which cost around $2,500 for a six-month contract, and were only able to connect to other EncroChat handsets.
As a result of information pulled from the Encrochat hack, British police seized dozens of luxury watches and fancy cars, two tonnes of drugs, more than 70 firearms, and stashes of money.
In total, the equivalent of more than $91 million in cash was seized, according to the NCA.
Eight million dollars were obtained in a single raid -- the largest in Scotland Yard history.
The NCA say that a specialist team of theirs also used the information to prevent kidnappings and executions planned by rival gangs before the EncroChat servers were shut down, “successfully mitigating over 200 threats to life.”
“I want to emphasize that this work is the culmination of meticulous planning to tackle the most serious and organised crimes groups that have been working in our communities,” Chief Constable Steve Jupp, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for serious organized crime, says in the NCA release. “Serious organised crime is complex but working together with our Regional Organised Crimes Units and the National Crime Agency we have achieved an unparalleled victory against the kingpin criminals whose criminal activity and violence intimidates and exploits the most vulnerable.
“By dismantling these groups, we have saved countless lives and protected communities across the U.K.”