‘It was like we were sitting at the table where criminals were chatting’ – police forces hack cartel server
An encrypted communications server that was hacked by European police forces and led to millions of messages between criminals being intercepted was also used by the Kinahan cartel.
Arrests have been carried out in the UK, the Netherlands and across Europe after the EncroChat server was hacked by police forces.
In the UK alone, 746 arrests were made and 77 firearms seized under Operation Venetic after the company’s encryption was cracked by law enforcement.
Gardai have been liaising with their European counterparts as part of the operations in an effort to target Irish crime groups using EncroChat.
Sources said that the encrypted communication was widely used by associates of the Kinahan cartel both in Ireland and abroad.
As a result, they are hopeful of further disrupting the international crime group.
“The cartel has major ties in England and the Netherlands and obviously these developments are significant in targeting their interests there,” one source said.
By cracking the encrypted communications network, European police were able to covertly watch “over the shoulder” of criminals in real time as they planned drug trafficking, arms sales, assassinations and torture.
Two months ago French and Dutch police managed to crack the server, used by over 60,000 people worldwide, which led to the unprecedented operations.
“It was as though we were sitting at the table where criminals were chatting among themselves really,” said Jannine van den Berg, chief of the Dutch National Police Force.
European police and judicial authorities said they expect the investigation to send shockwaves through organized crime gangs across the continent.
The encrypted platform was used by 60,000 people worldwide. The service pushed a message to all its users on June 13 alerting them that their systems had been breached and urging users to throw away their phones, European Union police agency Europol added.
The agency said EncroChat sold its “cryptotelephones” for around €1,000 each and offered subscriptions with worldwide coverage for €1,500 for six months.
Just last month, gardai seized a number of the encrypted devices after a major operation with Dutch police targeting an Irish crime group with links to Holland.
A 40-year-old Meath man was arrested as part of a large-scale operation while cocaine worth more than €1m was also seized. Detectives also seized €70,000 in the operation, which was carried out as a result of the EncroChat hack.
In the North, 25 searches yesterday resulted in the seizure of more than £365,000 (€404,000) in cash, as well as drugs, high-value vehicles, laptops, jewellery and designer handbags.
The PSNI said it had 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 while one is on High Court bail.